Dr Linda Pollock, QNIS Vice-Chair and former Community Nurse Director in NHS Lothian’s Primary Care Trust shares her story of coming back from retirement to lend her experience as a volunteer coordinator during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Back in March, I returned early from an alpine ski holiday as France went into lockdown, literally overnight. In our hotel, we had watched scenes like those in a Hollywood disaster movie as the full force of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Italy. I vowed at that point, I would approach NHS Lothian to offer my services and see if I could do something to help.
I thought they might think twice about asking such wrinklies – huh? – like me to help, long retired from the NHS. My family and specifically my brother were horrified saying that I had already done my bit for the NHS and should remember that I was no spring chicken. The cheek! In my favour though, I had kept up my registration, still juggle four voluntary jobs, remain -well! – under 70 and most importantly I am fortunate enough to still be healthy and active. Call me pompous, but I thought I still had something to offer the NHS amid emergency planning and facing potentially overwhelming numbers of COVID-19 patients. Though to be honest, the NHS is in my DNA and I would have done anything to help.
Though to be honest, the NHS is in my DNA and I would have done anything to help.
To cut a long story short, I was asked to be a Volunteer Co-ordinator at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE). By the beginning of April, I found myself organising an office that had to go live within 2 weeks for ‘meeting and greeting’ volunteers willing to work as ward helpers. I operate with two colleagues, also retired nurses, and when on shift we each work from 7:30 am until 6:00 pm. The two days are very long but with four days off, especially in this weather, who could complain.
The volunteer ward helpers were quickly recruited, PVG checked, and all received on-line induction and training before going to the wards. Over 600 were recruited and now working in all the Lothian hospitals; in February and March volunteers were stationed at the doors to encourage everyone to gel their hands and to act as signposts for the different areas. By this point, the RIE was now unrecognisable as everything moved to create increased capacity for coping with a potential surge in patients affected by COVID-19. The volunteers still do ‘gel support’, are busy delivering packages from next-of-kin to the wards and troubleshoot at the front doors.
My key role is to confer with clinical managers and the ward charge nurses, and organise the rotas for the gel and ward helper volunteers; the latter has three shift options – morning, afternoon or evening, and we allocate them to the wards (whose needs change daily).
I explain and issue guidance as it evolves, answer any queries the volunteers may have, and generally give them the advice on how to cope with the various situations they find themselves in. The volunteers have been just wonderful. They come from all walks of life, different backgrounds, and ages, some furloughed, others still working – an amazingly dedicated group, most with no healthcare training – but unreservedly committed to helping the NHS.
The volunteers have been just wonderful.
The ward helper’s job is to chat to patients and compensate for the ‘no visitors’ policy operating just now. I wear PPE in the wards, as all the volunteers do, and they have risen to the challenges of patient communication with masks and looking like spacemen. They help the staff, do patient errands – buy little treats and newspapers from the shops; use kindles to read to patients and connect them with families and loved ones with iPads. I meet and greet each volunteer, get feedback about their shifts, and in-between do lots of organisational tasks (ordering gel for the dispensers, supplies, record attendances, document the shopping expenditure, and generally get to know the RIE to see how volunteers may help staff e.g. producing bereavement packs in the sanctuary). Each of my shifts flies by, and every day is varied and different. I am indebted to NHS Lothian who has welcomed me back to help, and to the volunteers who have made my role during COVID so enjoyable. I am so lucky!