Queen’s Nurse, Jane Douglas shares her perspective on the role of nursing in care homes during the COVID pandemic.
This year 2020 has been designated as International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, by the World Health Organisation. This year, the year of 2020, we find ourselves possibly challenged in a way that we have never been challenged before. This year we see nurses being described as ‘angels’, ‘heroes with wings’, ‘the real super-heroes’, but we are none of these, we are people, a group of professionals working across a sector that is diverse with many different roles, supporting people in many different ways, doing the job for which we are expertly trained. While the focus is very much on the acute and intensive care division of our sector we cannot, and should not forget the foundations of our health and social care system, which comes from our community settings.
In the community there is a collective of nurses working across different areas and sectors that make up primary and social care. These nurses too are in the front line, working to support people, keeping them safe, ensuring that they receive care and support, whether that be physical, social or psychological. Working too, to support the family networks, to help them through these times of crisis. Our roles and responsibilities are complex, and require a range of skills which enable us to be adaptable and responsive in times of crisis, such as we find ourselves now.
I am one of these nurses, I am also Chief Executive of a Registered Charity and I am the Registered Manager for two care homes. What I am learning during these unprecedented times is that I am a nurse first, a leader of teams. I am learning that it is hard to be that leader all the time. I have a responsibility to all our people – residents, staff, relatives. Keeping people safe is my main concern, along with maintaining wellbeing for all. In the beginning I was worried about not having enough PPE (masks), not being able to protect my staff and the people we support. This fear can be all encompassing.
‘Care homes have been hit hard, not only by Covid-19,
but also by some of the narrative surrounding their situation.’
But taking charge and getting organised helped; being prepared, through contingency planning, brushing up on our clinical skills and making sure we were ready to manage should Covid-19 strike in our care homes. Practicing donning and doffing, training staff to do the same. Having some fun in our learning and development as a group of nurses, with the same aim, to be prepared, to protect and support.
Care homes have been hit hard, not only by Covid-19, but also by some of the narrative surrounding their situation. There are care homes that do not have nurses, where health care assistants are skilling up to support people through this illness, which is admirable and should not go unnoticed. After this, when we have the time, we need to explore and review what we need in all our care homes with regards to skill mix. How we ensure that there is a nursing workforce to support residents and staff who live and work in care homes to ensure that all are safe. We need to have parity across the sector, where care homes are seen as part of a health and social care system, with the awareness that one size does not fit all.
‘I see a staff group who are brave, courageous,
compassionate and caring.’
In our care homes we are united as a team to keep our people safe. I have seen, and continue to see a staff group who are brave, courageous, compassionate and caring. A staff group who feel scared, anxious and overwhelmed at times, but continue to come to work, to support the vulnerable people that we care and support. This is what I see, and I am sure that this is what my peers in community nursing roles will be experiencing and observing during this time.
Now, today, this present, in which we find ourselves is different to our lives before. Our houses are quiet, and while there is a stillness and it is peaceful, we are missing the vibrancy of life that comes from the people who visit the homes. There is a sense of waiting, it feels like a ship out at sea waiting for permission to dock. This is our new normal. Covid-19 has brought us challenges across the whole of health and social care, challenges that none of us working in these sectors would ever have been able to imagine.