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13 August 2020

On the frontline during COVID-19

Healthcare workers in Kent have been describing their experience of being on the frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A healthcare assistant – aged just 22 – comforted patients and their relatives as they said goodbye and a community nurse lived in a hotel for three months as she feared passing infection to her vulnerable husband, who was shielding.

A hospital nurse, who normally looks after rehabilitation patients, cared for patients with COVID-19 and others at the end of their lives and another community nurse visited patients in a care home.

This is just a small selection of NHS heroes from Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust. It’s an organisation that provides a wide-range of NHS care and support for people living in the community – including in people’s own homes; nursing homes; health clinics; community hospitals; minor injury units and in mobile units.

Apprentice Healthcare Assistant Eilidh Kessack, 22, sat with patients and held their hands, making sure they did not die alone.

With hospital visitors limited, Eilidh relayed family phone messages. With one patient, she held a phone to his ear, so his loved ones could say goodbye.

Eilidh works at Whitstable and Tankerton Hospital which provides rehabilitation and end of life care.

Eilidh Kessack

She said:  “I just did what was needed. I’ve been working a lot of hours, we’ve never been busier and it is emotionally stressful. We have patients who do sadly die. I hold their hands so they’re not on their own.

“One man visited his wife of 50 years and said he didn’t care if he caught COVID-19; he said if she didn’t survive, he didn’t want to either and that was hard to hear.

“I care for these patients a lot, so it’s very sad. But I have just had to get on with it and show them we are there to care and support. It’s not just me who’s been doing this, everyone on the ward is great – and we work like one big family.”

Community Nurse and Primary Care Network Lead in Tunbridge Wells Karen Flory lived in a hotel and away from her husband and family for two months as she didn’t want to risk possibly passing the COVID-19 virus on to her husband, who is in a vulnerable group.

Living in a hotel, near Pembury, was not easy. Not only did she miss seeing her family, but there were also limited kitchen and cooking facilities, meaning many microwave meals. It’s was a vast difference to her normal life – as she lives on a farm in East Sussex.

Karen said: “It’s been hard. We’ve all had meltdowns at some point, worried about our patients who we might have looked after for years, or worried about ourselves or our families. But we’re all there for each other.

“Our patients, who are housebound, were worried that no-one would go out to them, so we’ve had to reassure them. Our visits are now taking longer because of the personal protective equipment (PPE) we have to wear. Putting it on and taking it off takes time. Also, it’s hot with the PPE on, which also slows us down, but we need to make sure our patients and us, as healthcare professionals, are safe.”

Trainee Assistant Practitioner Jade Lawrence, who works at Westview Hospital in Tenterden, cared for COVID-19 patients and patients at the end of their lives, when she usually works within a team providing rehabilitation support.

Jade Lawrence

She said: “I work in the rehab unit and usually we have patients who’ve had a stroke, heart surgery, or been in hospital and not quite ready to go home. I work alongside physiotherapists and occupational therapists and help patients to regain their independence.

“However, during COVID-19 we’ve had very few rehab patients; we’ve had patients at the end of their life, which has been hard for nurses who are not used to dealing with this.

“The biggest difference is having to wear the PPE. You get so hot; you just don’t know what to do with yourself. I now appreciate how hard it must be for those who work in intensive care units and on respiratory wards.”

Many nurses and healthcare workers have shown exceptional bravery and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic – including Kati Scullion, who has personal resilience – in her DNA.

Kati is one of the trust’s frailty complex care nurses, based at Coxheath, near Maidstone. Although she has lived in the UK for the past 27 years, Kati has always held on to a Finnish concept from her homeland, known as Sisu.

The word means stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience and hardiness.

She said: “The word is about not losing hope and pushing through in tough times, which is what everyone has been doing. It’s about dealing with whatever is thrown at you. You can’t give in and stop.

“No one person or one organisation can do this alone, it is about us all working together as a team. We are all in this together and getting though this.”

During the past few months Kati has been supported a care home in Maidstone.

Kati Scullion

She said: “Working at the care home, I felt like I made a difference. We had patients die, but they did so according to their wishes. It was comfortable and planned. We avoided a crisis. The staff  were fantastic.”

Kati is now back in her usual role, supporting patients in the community, giving phone support and advice to patients, where possible, and visiting patients in their homes, where necessary.

She said: “Slowly, but surely, it feels like we are returning to normality.”

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