“The first words I heard from a nurse conducting the handover on my first NHS shift stayed with me – ‘what have we learnt today?’ The approach of looking to learn from each other, reflect on best practice and improve processes for me aligned with the values and behaviours we strive for at Nuffield Health.”
As part of Nuffield Health’s support to the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoe Phillips and Michael Jones both temporarily swapped their roles as Health and Wellbeing Physiologists to support NHS intensive care nursing teams at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH). They tell us about their experiences.
Zoe and Michael, why did you both choose to support the NHS?
Zoe says: I had heard how the second wave of COVID-19 was a lot worse than the first and I wanted to help out where I could. Due to my Physiology background, I was also interested in how the hospitals were caring for COVID-19 patients.
Michael says: I’ve seen the impact the pandemic has had on society and the burden that has placed on the NHS, I wanted to contribute to the recovery where I can. When Nuffield Health’s health assessments were paused in mid-January and with requests for support received from NHS trusts, I was keen to help.
Tell us about the role you did in the NHS? What do you enjoy about your role with the NHS?
Zoe: I've been doing night shifts working in one of the newly repurposed Intensive Therapy Units at UCLH as a Nurse Assistant. It mainly involves helping the Intensive Care Nurses, as normally they would have one patient to look after, but now they have at least two. As these patients have such high care needs, it's a lot of work for the nurses! I help with doing hourly observations of their physical status and support machines, take blood gases, ECGs, assist in regular turning and cleaning of the patients, and helping re-stock areas: anything which makes it easier for the nurses to take care of the patients. I'm enjoying learning new skills and putting my physiology knowledge into practice. It's also lovely getting to know the NHS nurses and doctors on the ward; they're all so friendly and take the time to make you feel comfortable and explain things where possible. It's quite busy; there's always something to do, and a 12-hour shift goes by pretty quickly!
Michael: I was placed into one of three intensive care units at UCLH in a role as a Healthcare Assistant for one night a week. This involved working mostly alongside doctors, nurses and medical students providing care for normally two patients per shift. I have enjoyed learning clinical skills and working collaboratively with the NHS team in intensive care, something I have missed since working from home. There is not a finite list of duties but typically they would include eye and mouth care, washing and turning patients, hourly observations, and restocking equipment.
How is your role with the NHS different to your role at Nuffield Health?
Zoe: Very different! At Nuffield Health, it’s predominantly proactive health management: I work with mainly healthy clients to improve their health and wellbeing through lifestyle management. During the intensive care shifts we do many of the same clinical measurements I would do during a routine Health Assessment at Nuffield such as ECG's, blood pressure, and blood tests. In the context of intensive care, these are all taken to make sure the treatment is working and to make acute adjustments, whereas for Nuffield Health they form part of the discussion for lifestyle change. One thing I found difficult with the intensive care role was the lack of patient interaction. Most of the patients are sedated or cannot talk due to ventilation equipment. Additionally, the hours are very different - this is the first time I have properly carried out night shifts, which has taken a little getting used to!
Michael: My two roles are close to polar opposites! I work as Physiology Programme Lead for one of our corporate clients, with my main duties including delivering health assessments, running health events and data analysis for inform on the company’s wellbeing strategy. Clients I see are normally at the opposite end of the illness-wellness continuum compared to the patients I see in intensive care. Despite being accustomed to having a patient facing role, working in intensive care involved a completely different approach and switching from a ‘9 to 5’ role to an 8am to 8pm nightshift took some considerable adjustment.
Is working for the NHS different to what you expected? If so, in what way?
Zoe: I hadn't fully appreciated just how much work the NHS team has to do for each COVID-19 patient - it's non-stop care. Once they go into intensive care they are there for a long time, it can be months. It's also a lot less stressful than expected. The nurses and doctors are so calm and collected all the time, even when something urgent is happening.
Michael: I had never worked in the NHS before and I unsure of what to expect. My shifts in intensive care tend to ebb and flow as where you must expect the unexpected, looking after different teams and patients with varying needs. The first words I heard from a nurse conducting the handover on my first NHS shift stayed with me - “what have we learnt today?” The approach of looking to learn from each other, reflect on best practice and improve processes for me aligned with the values and behaviours we strive for at Nuffield Health.
What would you say to someone else at Nuffield Health who is thinking of supporting the NHS?
Zoe: Go for it! It's a wonderful learning opportunity and a way to get an insight into a part of healthcare you may not normally see. It's also very rewarding, and it feels good to be able to help!
Michael: I would recommend supporting the NHS in whatever way you can. I know many colleagues within health and wellbeing physiology would be well placed to put their patient facing skills to good use. I would highlight that the nature of the working environment means the role is demanding but be honest with your NHS colleagues about what you can currently do, what they can help you learn and what is out of your scope of practice. Finally, ensure you take extra time to care for yourself, my line managers at Nuffield Health and the NHS have been a huge source of support and made balancing both my roles much easier.
How are you getting on with your NHS colleagues?
Zoe: Great, they're all lovely people even when they're busy. They always take the time to teach you something or explain what they're doing. They are all very approachable, patient, and appreciative of everyone who's helping out. It's been interesting hearing how the past year has been for them compared to what we hear from the media - not always the same story!
Michael: My NHS colleagues have made my experience working in the hospital. I have worked with different teams on each shift and all have been extremely considerate, helpful, supportive and always happy to teach me new skills, so I can better support them. For me the truly remarkable attributes of the NHS teams are not always what they are doing on shift but the fact the return day after day, week after week with the same drive and enthusiasm in what can be an extremely challenging and draining environment.