Why preparing for the worst kept our patients and staff safe during the pandemic

Published: 24 September 2021 to 31 December 2098

Michele Moran shares her experience of dealing with staff health and wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic, and how her own experiences shaped the introduction of new safety initiatives that completely transformed care during these challenging times.

When the news first broke of covid-19 during the beginning part of last year, I remember wondering what would happen when it inevitably made it to our shores.

During my years working in healthcare, I’ve come to learn that, in times of crisis, it is equally important to consider both staff and patient safety as one and the same. Both must be prioritised in order to sustain one another.

In those first weeks, the air of uncertainty was palpable, and I felt an immediate sense of understanding when it came to the anxiety our staff must have been feeling, particularly when considered in combination with the regular stressors of working in a fast-paced healthcare environment.

As other organisations began to stand down services and focus on business continuity during times of ever-changing guidance and uncertainty, we instead took the initiative to simply focus on keeping our staff and patients safe. To me, the most logical focal point was increasing Infection Prevention and Control (IPC).

Having just started a major transformation of our Whitby Community Hospital and recently opened a new CAMHS unit in Hull, there was a lot of pressure to get the balance right when choosing to keep our services open, while implementing enhanced procedures to allow this to be done safely.

On reflection, one of the decisions I am most proud of was the choice to mobilise a Rapid Response Team, which brought together various roles to tackle covid cases. The mixed team worked on a new ward to allow positive patients to be separated from others, ensuring lower rates of transmission across our patch.

As a trust with a variety of mental health and learning disability services, we were aware that many of our clinicians were not trained in physical health. It was therefore exceptionally important that skills were shared, and staff supported one another in one consolidated team. We subsequently also increased our formal training provision, to ensure that everyone’s skills were not only up-to-date but enhanced.

With ever-changing guidance, we quickly recognised that staff had a hard time keeping up. It is for this reason that we developed our Back to Basics campaign, which sought to simplify core IPC guidance to keep everyone safe. I am proud to say that this work was commended and reused by NHS trusts on a national level.

As the weeks went by, we placed an ongoing focus on future-proofing policies and procedures, which meant considering all the worst possible outcomes and preparing for them in advance. By not only ensuring they were in existence, but also up-to-date and reflecting the current circumstances, our teams were equipped to keep service users safe and well.

As part of our evolving health and wellbeing policies, we also began to introduce new initiatives for staff to incorporate into their daily routines. For example, our Matrons developed a ‘PPE Pocket Pack’ for clinical staff, to address the need to quickly don PPE in dynamic situations. Meanwhile, learning disability and mental health inpatient staff are sometimes required to perform interventions at close quarters with patients, potentially for an extended period of time. These quite different scenarios meant that we needed to manage the use of PPE somewhat differently to other organisations, whilst continuing to put patient and staff safety first. I’m proud that this brilliant innovation was shortlisted for the Patient Safety Awards along with three other projects across our trust, recognising how we successfully put patient safety at the heart of all we do.

As the first wave of covid-19 began to take hold, we recognised a need for increased staff support. We developed an internal wellbeing hub, allowing staff to access the latest guidance quickly and easily. This included new ways they could seek emotional wellbeing support, such as counselling, bereavement support and use of the ShinyMind app.

It was around this time that we also began developing our Together We Can book, a way to tell our teams’ stories of positivity during times of uncertainty. The book raised money for our Trust Charity, Health Stars, and featured artwork submitted by the public to celebrate our local NHS and thank them for all they do.

Though we knew that we could not completely remove the worries of working in healthcare during this challenging time, our goal was to make things easier - where we could. We continued to work with Health Stars to not only share stories and learnings across the trust, but to arrange recognition gifts for our staff. We wanted to boost morale and show our thanks, which over time included gift vouchers, pamper packages, food parcels, an additional day of annual leave, plus much more.

We were pleased to hear positive feedback and that these small tokens of appreciation were well received, and we continue to develop staff celebration initiatives as we move forward into recovery.

While these efforts are simply a glimpse into the way we adapted as a trust during the first and second waves of covid-19, I am pleased to see the impact continues through to today. Our most recent staff and patient surveys reflected fantastic results, recognising our dedication to patient and staff safety.

As we moved into the next phases of covid management, including launching our ongoing vaccination programme, we continue to prioritise health and wellbeing of patients and staff above all else.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our wonderful team of staff and volunteers, without whom none of these successes would have been made possible.

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