Claire Roberts, 64, first came to The Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn in 1983 as an intensive care nurse. She worked at Epsom General Hospital from 1991 to 2000 before returning to King’s Lynn as Head of Nursing for Medicine and Care of the Elderly before being appointed deputy director of nursing. She held a number of corporate roles before retiring in October 2018. Now she is back on the frontline as we respond to COVID-19
Staying at home in self-isolation was never really an option for me. After a career spanning more than 40 years as a registered nurse in the NHS, the bonds that bind me are tight indeed. It might sound trite but the reality for me, and I suspect for many others, is that working within the NHS is like being part of a second family and that family and the community it serves is now under threat.
I am a child of the post-war years and so have never lived through the tumult of war but I have a sense that this is what we are all facing now. The global scale of the onslaught has been terrifying to watch but as always it is the individual human tragedies that have lingered in the mind. The coming weeks in this country are going to test us all in different ways but for those working in the NHS this will be the challenge of a lifetime.
It is for this reason that I and other former nursing colleagues have already come out of retirement and have returned to work in our local hospital. We are part of the nationwide call to arms that is being answered daily by retired and former doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. We come with different skills and experience but we all want to provide support to our former colleagues and to help wherever we can. Although we may lack some up to date skills, we can offer a steadying presence and a willingness to stand by those frontline staff overwhelmed by the current situation.
Coming back to work is not without risk and I am very aware of the daily toll of staff affected by the virus and becoming sick themselves. Many are fearful and anxious about the consequences and yet dutifully turn up each day to work in the most challenging of environments and exposed to risk on a constant basis. This week I have been involved in the newly organised staff swabbing programme and it is a testament to their sense of duty, that staff are anxious to be swabbed so that they can hopefully receive the all clear and so return to work.
I am not sure what the next few weeks will bring. The local plan is in place and each day we take another step forward. Our daily Covid-19 numbers are steadily increasing and we now have two emergency departments, two intensive care units and an increasing number of wards caring only for Covid-19 patients.
Staff are being re-deployed and attending training sessions to have those skills that are needed in this new world. Apart from urgent and emergency activity, everything else is focused on having the capacity to manage the expected influx of new patients. Among this frenzy of activity there is a sense of calmness and watchful waiting in the hospital.
I hope that I will be able to make a meaningful contribution. I am not sure what that will be as the weeks progress but it will be a privilege to be part of this collective effort to weather the coming storm and save as many lives as possible.
There will be difficult decisions to make and much heartache but I know that we will all be focused in providing the best possible care to our patients, their families and each other. The NHS may bend as the storm progresses but it will not break and once we have reached the other side I will hopefully hang up my uniform once more and slip back into retirement.