Becky Everett: Volunteering for the NHS

As I am currently furloughed from my role as Quality and Improvement Manager at Leuchie House I decided to help the NHS through the volunteering scheme they have set up to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. The process from application to action was lengthy involving an interview, on line training on how to wash your hands and put on and take off (“Donning” and “Doffing”) personal protection equipment (PPE) and checks of my police record.

As part of the process I asked to be allocated a role in East Lothian and at last I was given a start date and told to arrive at the brand-new Hospital in Haddington where my role would be a ‘ward helper’ for two mornings a week. It had been years since I had worked as a nurse on a ward and I was certainly anxious as I arrived.

I was shown to the ward and to a changing room to, in the new parlance, don my uniform! I was given a tour of the ward which consisted of 20 rooms for patients, each room having an en-suite bathroom. Certainly, very different from the large open wards that were common place when I did my nurse training. Staff and care assistants were friendly and I quickly felt at home.

One of my roles is to talk to the patients as currently the NHS, like us at Leuchie, do not allow families and friends to visit their relatives due to the risk of them spreading the Corona virus to very vulnerable patients. As there are no patients infected with COVID-19 on my ward and because I am only talking to patients I have to wear a surgical mask, not gloves and apron. Nursing and care staff obviously wear the whole protective PPE at all times, as they are carrying out personal care.

The patients on the ward are elderly and really appreciated having someone to talk to. Many wanted me to help them with calls home to family and friends, they had phones so they could stay in contact. Unfortunately, some did not know how to top them up, charge them or use them. As I am hopeless with technology it was very much the blind leading the blind, but generally I was able to help. I could have done with Helen and Elizabeth’s help though - how lucky we are to have them at Leuchie.

It brought me great satisfaction to be able to help patients reach their families to let them know they were ok or ask them for more clothes or items from home. Interestingly the NHS have identified that some patients may not have relatives nearby and will be providing a shopping service from next week, for small personal items such as toiletries and magazines for those patients who do not have anyone to bring things in for them. I was very encouraged to see the NHS reacting to patients issues even in this time of crisis.

Some patients have iPads which they used to have video ‘chats’, which I think must be reassuring to be able to see and talk to your loved one during this challenging period. Many of the individuals I spoke with had been in hospital for some time and were sometimes confused, wondering why their relatives had not come into visit. As guests at Leuchie know only too well, being isolated during this virus can add to the anxiety one feels.

It brings me great pleasure and I feel very privileged to in some way comfort and reassure patients that they are not alone, listen to their stories and hopefully help to pass some time. But I also now understand how staff in the NHS and at Leuchie feel having to care for patients while wearing protective equipment. Providing the care, they do requires such close communication and connection, doing this all day with a mask on is a real barrier.

Talking to patients while wearing a mask I struggled to be heard and as some of the patients have hearing difficulties they relied on being able to see my face to fully understand what I was saying. Even for the short time I was on the ward I found that my throat quickly felt very dry and I was left quite exhausted.

My short, thus far, return to the NHS has reinforced to me the important role that Leuchie plays in providing care and connection for our guests and I so look forward to getting back to whatever the “new” normal may be when we will see our guests safely back at Leuchie. In the meantime, please keep talking and keep in touch.