THEY were at the frontline of the fight against coronavirus and for many patients were the last voices they heard or smiles they saw.
The dedicated teams of healthcare workers, from doctors to nurses to specialists and trainees, at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde showed their resilience at they came together to care for covid patients as hospitals up and down the country saw admissions rise and sadly the death toll as well.
Weary and anxious staff had the support of their colleagues but within weeks of the pandemic they were also able to take time out at one of the many rest and recuperation hubs which had been set up at hospitals.
Clinical psychologists who had been used to working with colleagues and medical teams to help patients through diagnosis and treatment found themselves pivoting their roles and were there to help healthcare teams.
From being a listening ear or leading support groups to setting up a care line, staff wellbeing became the focus.
And one of the legacies as we emerge from the pandemic is the recognition that staff wellbeing services and support is a priority going forward.
It is one of the reasons we have reached out to staff at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde as part of The Herald’s covid memorial campaign.
We are campaigning to create a memorial in the grounds of Pollok Country Park and have raised more than £60,000. As part of engagement phase our artist Alec Finlay is reaching out through the theme of I remember with people being encouraged to submit a single sentence which can capture the thoughts and feelings throughout the pandemic. Two dedicated I Remember workshops are being held. On Tuesday August 10 a workshop will be held with intensive care unit NHS staff followed by a workshop on Monday August 16 for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde staff.
Dr Susan Boyle, a clinical consultant who is the Professional Lead Acute Psychology, for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, whose team helped man the R&R hubs, said: “Times of acknowledgements and opportunities to validate and to share experience and for some people complete an emotional cycle and bring some kind of level of closure is really valuable.”
Before the pandemic Dr Boyle’s team’s role was to support patients and medical teams with the psychological aspect of physical health problems, but when the pandemic hit they remobilised.
She added: “We began to adapt and some of our work was done remotely, but we began to turn our focus to supporting and helping our colleagues.
“They were now at the coalface of providing the response. We helped set up and manned the R&R hubs in the main hospitals. We were available for staff either one to one, in the hubs and straight away set up a care line for acute staff to be able to call us at any time.
“Staff reflected on how they felt about burn out and didn’t describe themselves as heroes some said they were only doing their jobs, but they did appreciate the outpouring of love and concern. One of the biggest challenges was when people felt they couldn’t give a level of care specifically in relation to the lack of visiting that allowed. Staff met as best they could patients emotional and spiritual needs, but couldn’t let families in and they found that very hard. All masked up they were the only human contact for that person lying in a bed.”
“As time went on we set up group reflective sessions for staff and specific teams. We learned early on none of it was an individual experience. It was such a collective experience within health and social care that we were facing together. The group sessions were powerful and important as they brought people together who had unique, shared experience.”
She said while staff are used to supporting individuals and families, but what was different with the pandemic was the scale and the relentlessness and the trauma.
Dr Boyle added: “It was a changing picture with difference advice and rules comes out every day and at the very beginning the staff responded with that human response of fight or flight and our staff are used to getting into fight mode. All of their energy was focused on training and task and professionalism. I think they responded with remarkable energy and compassion and as we are all human with fear too, but it was channelled into action.
“When we went into lockdown, the NHS had never been the focus of such attention before and we just didn’t know what was going to come. Our role was at looking after staffs basic needs so we could help them to keep functioning and be able to turn up for work every day. It was important they had the rest hubs and that chance to connect. We never forced people to talk, some people just wanted to get 10 minutes to recharge and collect themselves while others might want to open up.
While the teams might have gone back to their day jobs in acute psychology, the experience of the pandemic could leave a legacy of a new model of helping staffing and caring for their wellbeing.
“Something has really changed in the health service. There is a real focus on staff wellbeing and support,” added Dr Boyle. “We have shared everything we have learned and there are smaller hubs in hospitals where people can find out where to get information. Spaces where people can go which is very important.
“Longer term, it is recognised that this is something we want to continue with and an action plan for mental health and wellbeing is something which is being worked through now with focuses on staff helping one another through peer support and also specialist support being offered.”
To sign up for an I Remember workshop go to http://www.i-remember.uk/p/events.html.
To submit an I Remember, email email@example.com.To donate to the campaign at gofundme.com/ herald-garden-of-remembrance. You can also send donations via post to The Herald Garden of Remembrance Campaign, Herald & Times, 125 Fullarton Drive, Glasgow, G32 8FG.