'Relentless and painstaking' - chief nurse on hospital's coronavirus battle

Dr April Brown, chief nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), King's Lynn, has detailed the challenges facing the...

Dr April Brown, chief nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), King's Lynn, has detailed the challenges facing the hospital amid the coronavirus pandemic - Credit: QEH

A hospital's most senior nurse has lifted the lid on its efforts to combat the ever-worsening second wave of the coronavirus crisis. 

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn - Credit: Ian Burt

Dr April Brown, chief nurse at the Queen Elizbeth Hospital (QEH), in King's Lynn, says work to stem the tide of Covid-19 patients has been "relentless and painstaking".

As of December 27, a total of 194 people with covid-19 had died at QEH since the start of the pandemic, with more than 40 coming since mid-October.

Moreover, the number of beds occupied by those suffering with the virus makes for worrying reading. 

During the first wave, no more than 121 people were admitted to QEH at any one time (May 3), but on December 20 there was a new peak of 158.

Dr Brown, who was working for NHS England until assuming her new role in August, said: "It is extremely busy here and, if you speak to any chief nurse across the UK, I think they would all say the same thing. 

"The difference now compared to the first wave is that this is constant. We are facing winter now so it is relentless; it is painstaking work.

“We are continuing to deal with the complexities of caring for people with Covid-19 and those who may have already had the virus, as well as other patients such as mums having babies. More and more outpatients are having to have virtual appointments. 

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"Staff are working at their highest levels and doing their best to be caring and compassionate to each other, as well as their patients."

Patients could need to book slots for appointments at A&E departments, such as at the Queen Elizabet

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn - Credit: Sonya Duncan

With more patients comes increased pressure and a potential for heightened stress levels among hospital staff. 

But Dr Brown said she takes immense pride in the way workers in every department have stepped up and responded at their country's time of need.

“I am so proud of all of our staff who are working incredibly hard, whether it is at bedsides or in offices," she added. "The work itself is difficult, but it is made easier because our staff are so innovative.  

“People are tired. Everybody across the country has experienced that tiredness because we have not had the opportunity to do those things that give us downtime. But it never ceases to amaze me how staff rise to the challenge."

QEH this week began its coronavirus vaccination programme, with the most vulnerable members of the local community at the front of the queue.

In line with government policy, those over the age of 80 and care home workers will initially be prioritised, although unfilled appointment slots will be used to vaccinate hospital staff at higher risk of serious illness.

Dr Brown admits having a "lump in my throat" when she was reminded of the hospital's role in "making history". 

Mavis Cleaver vaccine QEH

Mavis Cleaver about to receive her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King's Lynn - Credit: QEH

That importance of looking out for employees and monitoring their wellbeing - both physical and mental - has become even more of a priority during the pandemic.

It has not just been patients contracting the virus, but frontline workers too, and that has inevitably resulted in a growing workload for their colleagues. 

"We have lateral flow tests which we are very pleased to offer staff, and some have had positive results," added Dr Brown.

"That has obviously led to increased absences, and that has put pressure on other staff, but we are balancing the risk with helping our workforce. Then, when staff are ready to come back, they are welcomed.

"We work very hard to support our staff, to listen to them and respond. We have mental health first aiders available, as you would in every workplace. We’ve recruited a specialist psychologist, and of course we have line management and occupational health for staff who are concerned. 

"We have a number of different mechanisms to make sure they are reassured."

With Norfolk in the grip of Tier 4 restrictions as a new year dawns, QEH has a fight on its hands to cope with spiralling infection rates.

But Dr Brown maintains that everybody must play their part to help ease the burden on the NHS.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn - Credit: QEH

"It is all about sticking to the regulations, and remembering ‘hands, face, space,'" she said.

"People may feel there is not much they can do to support us in getting out of this, but those rules are there for a reason.” 

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