They have described the challenge of fighting Covid-19, saying: “We are a family and we have become bigger and stronger”.
Staff at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust are striving to provide outstanding care and save lives every day, despite facing their own anxieties.
They have been forced to react to rapidly changing national guidance, adapt to new ways of working – and today staff at Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital have spoken about what life is really like leading from the front.
The trust, which also runs Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, has seen huge pressure on intensive care beds.
Ashley Timms, who is manager of the intensive therapy and high dependency units, admitted: “We have never faced anything like this before.”
The 30-year-old from Wem added: “I have felt very emotional at times seeing the dedication, care and compassion for our patients from my team, including our support teams that come to help ITU during this time.
“We have nurses, doctors and clerical workers come from other departments, hospitals and community services to help us. The help they have provided and the teamwork they have demonstrated has been inspirational.
“Our ITU family has become bigger and stronger.
"I know that I could not be prouder of our cross-site critical care teams and how they have adapted to new ways of working in unprecedented times.”
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Doctors and nurses at PRH and RSH have been updating families of patients over the phone as much as possible, while they are also showing patients photographs that have been emailed in from family members.
The hospitals also have iPads and cordless phones, so relatives can either video call their loved ones or pass on their messages. Donations, cards and letters from the public have been gratefully received and Mr Timms says there is “excellent team spirit”.
He said: “We are worried for our own families and relatives, this pandemic is testing everyone. I have seen my team come together more than ever, supporting one another and even making one another laugh at break time. We are proud to be part of the critical care team and we will get through this.”
Sophia Hallewell, 30, a medicines management technician in pharmacy, has volunteered to work on the Covid-19 wards.
“Others are finding this time hard to cope with and I would rather feel okay about going on the wards than another colleague struggle with anxiety to do it,” she said.
“I personally don’t have to go in with patients with Covid-19, but all the staff I have seen dealing with patients have been doing a great job.
“Some days you can come in feeling ready and other days it’s harder to deal with.
"We all have a buddy group that we can talk to each other about any worries we have and meet up for a quick chat.”
Senior radiographer Claire Atkinson, 26, of Telford, added: “We all have good days and bad days but we are all supporting each other and helping each other out.
"Our department leads have been really good at ensuring that we all have rest days as the shifts can be mentally draining.
"We are definitely seeing an increase in the number of portable chest X-rays throughout the hospital, including A&E, ITU and the wards. Our CT, MRI, ultrasound and interventional departments are also seeing an increase in inpatient scans.”
Ms Atkinson sees Covid-19 patients daily, performing portable chest X-rays at their bedside or they are brought to her department for other examinations.
She added: “Our role means we have transient contact with patients and rarely interact with families.
“I know that many family members feel at a loss with not being able to be with their loved one every step of the way, but my colleagues on the ward are making constant efforts to keep in touch with the families during a very difficult time.”
Anupama Suresh is a nurse on the stroke rehabilitation ward.
“Our hospital is well prepared for the Covid fight so the only change I’ve felt is the number of hospital visitors, which is now reduced,” she said.
“We all had appropriate training for Covid management as well.
“I have a real mix of feelings right now.
“I am really happy to be in my role as I got the chance to support this nation during the coronavirus pandemic crisis.
“I am also worried about my family in India as they were also in lock down, but I am not worried about myself because I have faith in the healthcare system in England and in God.”
The 32-year-old, of Telford, says there has been adequate staffing so the workload is manageable and morale has been “calm and professional”.
She added: “I am really lucky to have such a wonderful team, all of them are very kind and supportive.
“I am really glad to see a lot of support and appreciation we receive from the public daily in various forms like cards and gifts.”
Clinical director for maternity and consultant obstetrician Mei-See Hon looks after women throughout their pregnancy, labour and birth.
She is proud of how the whole team has responded and says morale is good, but the challenge will be keeping the momentum going and spirits up as time progresses.
“Everyone is really driven to making sure our mums get the best possible birthing experience as we know this is such a special time in their lives,” said the 41-year-old, from Newport.
“For the first few weeks of the pandemic we invested a lot of time planning for what was to come and reconsidering all ways that women access and receive care in order to keep our mums, their families and the staff safe.
“We had to pause the home birth service and births in the midwife-led unit as we saw our staffing levels reduce, with staff following shielding and self-isolating guidance, but I am delighted to say that these services have now been reinstated and we look forward to welcoming new families into our brand new Wrekin midwife-led unit.
“We have been conducting telephone consultations where appropriate so women don’t need to attend in person.
“When women do need to attend the hospital there are strict procedures in place to make sure that we maintain social distancing for them to minimise their risk.”
She has urged mums-to-be to continue to seek help if they have any concerns about their pregnancy.
“We want to be very clear that we are open for business as usual and we really want to make sure that mums who have any concerns contact us; it’s really important, as it has always been, for mums to seek help early.
“If you are worried about your baby’s movements please do not delay getting in touch with maternity triage – we are very much still here for you.”
Meanwhile, Bernadette Cooke manages the neonatal unit, looking after the wellbeing of babies, families and staff.
The unit hasn’t had any Covid-19 patients, although staff have had to adapt to wearing full protective equipment.
“Families are spoken to daily by the medical team, and our parents are encouraged to continue to care for their babies,” said the 51-year-old, from Shrewsbury.
“We’ve implemented ‘Baby Diary’ – a downloadable app enabling parents and family to receive regular pictures and updates when they are not here.
“We are soon to go live with “V – Create” another platform for videos.
“Our parents have been incredibly understanding about the restricted visiting and wearing of PPE.
“We are living in unprecedented times – the information we are receiving changes daily.
“Our priority is keeping our families updated whilst also being aware of the impact of Covid-19 on staff and their home life.”
She says staff have been pulling together as a team to solve any issues and the trust has set up staff ‘wellbeing rooms’.
Ms Cooke has also paid tribute to her colleagues and the public for their support.
“The public have been generous keeping us supplied with kit bags, scrubs, knitted items, quilts and well wishes – these are all greatly appreciated,” she said.
“My colleagues have been fantastic I am so proud of them.
“My managers, my ward staff and colleagues from other wards are all helping each other to work through this as a team. This huge, wonderful team is full of empathy and support.
“I don’t wish to be called a hero in any way. I come in to work to do the job I love, and care for people. We are all just doing the best we can.”
David Chan, from Telford, manages the operational side of the estates at PRH and has admitted to feeling worried himself during these unprecedented times.
The 58-year-old and his team have been forced to think differently during the pandemic, which has meant daily briefings and moving wards and staff at very short notice to accommodate Covid-19 patients.
Sourcing some materials has become one of his biggest challenges as some suppliers and service contractors are either shut or running on a bare minimum.
Mr Chan, who has worked for the trust for 33 years, says it is “extremely busy”.
He said: “I have never known it to be this busy in all the years I have worked for the trust, trying to adapt with Covid, plus carry on with normal duties as well.”
But he says support from both the public and colleagues has been fantastic.
He added: “We have two volunteers supporting our admin team and we also have a local electrical contractor working for us on a volunteering basis – plus a local plumber filling in gaps on the on call team.
“We also have some of our suppliers and contractors giving us priority contact so they are at our call 24/7.
“Every Thursday we get appreciated by the public, but I clap every Thursday to appreciate how the public support us.”
Cleanliness technician Louise Bleloch has an important role keeping the hospital clean and safe, while she also stops to chat to patients to lift their spirits.
Her job now requires her to wear PPE at all times and, although she feels anxious, she says morale is surprisingly good.
“Staff and patients are lifting each other’s spirits,” she said.
“Our trust’s values have truly shone at this time.
“The public support has been amazing.
“The clapping on a Thursday has shown how all key workers, regardless of where they work, and in what role, are valued.”
Porter Ben Evason has worked at the trust for more than a decade.
During the pandemic, he’s been involved in the transfer of Covid-19 patients from A&E and to scans if required, as well as taking important samples to the lab for urgent transport and testing.
The 33-year-old, from Telford, said: “The pace of shifts change day to day but as a team we are pulling together and are currently meeting the demands, and are fully resourced.
“Morale is good and porters have been buoyed by the kindness, generosity and support shown by the local community and businesses.
“The public support during this period means a lot.
“Seeing positive messages and signs created by children outside people’s homes, and on the way to work, help.”