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‘I hope I’ve made a difference’: UEA student on frontline at Nightingale Hospital

PUBLISHED: 14:26 06 May 2020 | UPDATED: 14:26 06 May 2020

UEA student Alex Hunter in coronavirus PPE at the Nightingale Hospital. Picture: UEA

UEA student Alex Hunter in coronavirus PPE at the Nightingale Hospital. Picture: UEA

UEA

A student from the University of East Anglia has shared their experience of volunteering to care for coronavirus patients at the Nightingale Hospital in London.

Alex Hunter took the role as a clinical support worker working 12 and a half hour shifts at the temporary hospital at London’s Excel Centre, staying at a nearby hotel with her partner who also worked there in the same role.

In February, she completed her Master’s degree in occupational therapy at UEA’s School of Health Sciences and had set off to travel in Sri Lanka before she was set to begin a job in the NHS in London.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock at the opening of the NHS Nightingale Hospital  in London. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA WireHealth Secretary Matt Hancock at the opening of the NHS Nightingale Hospital in London. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

However, the Covid-19 pandemic forced her to fly home early and put her planned job on hold to volunteer at the Nightingale Hospital.

MORE: UK coronavirus death toll rises above 32,000 to highest in Europe

Despite her new professional qualification as an occupational therapist, Alex wanted to begin to help as soon as possible and was a clinical support worker for around three weeks.

UEA student Alex Hunter taking a break at the Nightingale Hospital. Picture: UEAUEA student Alex Hunter taking a break at the Nightingale Hospital. Picture: UEA

Tasks included patient observations, running blood gases and helping to keep patients as comfortable as possible.

She was also able to utilise some of her occupational therapy skills such as positioning to reduce pressure sores and helping patients to regain strength and pace themselves for recovery.

UEA student Alex Hunter was one of the volunteers at the Nightingale Hospital at London’s Excel Centre. Picture: UEAUEA student Alex Hunter was one of the volunteers at the Nightingale Hospital at London’s Excel Centre. Picture: UEA

Alex said: “Every shift was pretty non-stop but I think that is probably the case across the whole NHS right now, everyone is working so hard to continue delivering the highest level of care they can in this situation.”

One of the challenges she encountered was being able to hear colleagues in the busy open ward above loud with machines, especially when they were kitted up in full PPE.

UEA student Alex Hunter outside the Nightingale Hospital at London’s Excel Centre. Picture: UEAUEA student Alex Hunter outside the Nightingale Hospital at London’s Excel Centre. Picture: UEA

But Alex and her colleagues learnt to communicate using signs, something which she was taught in a crash course before beginning the role.

With the Nightingale Hospital now being placed on standby, she will now begin her role as an occupational therapist at the Royal Free Hospital in London. There are plans for her to return if she is needed in the future.

She said: “I have only briefly worked in an Intensive Care Unit on one of my student placements and always found the sheer amount of machines and wires attached to each patient quite daunting. But with the support of a bunch of people I’d never met until three weeks ago, I’ve learnt so much and I hope I’ve made a difference in the national effort to fight this.”

MORE: MP warns coronavirus fall in students would put UEA in “great jeopardy”

Alex is one of hundreds of UEA’s health sciences and medicine students who are currently working and volunteering across the country.

Professor Sally Hardy, Dean of Health Sciences at UEA, said: “Our students are passionate about people, incredibly caring, courageous and kind. They are often making big sacrifices in the current circumstances so that they can help others and the whole nation during this pandemic.

“I take this opportunity to thank every single one of them, and to Alex for the hard work they are putting back into the NHS at this time, we are so very proud of all that you are doing.”

Alex added: “I think everyone has been keen to step up to the mark and has embraced the challenge of beginning their careers in the midst of this world-wide pandemic.”

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