Zoe Newman, Head of Nursing, Urgent and Emergency Care at East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust explains how nursing has been transformed during the Covid crisis.

Nurses are highly trained to care for a variety of patients with varying medical conditions and emergencies, in emergency care we are used to looking after clinically unstable patients who present to the department and need our treatment.

We are used to treating patients who are infectious and we are bound by the Trust infection control guidance which is in place to protect us and the patients we treat in a safe manner. We rise and thrive on any challenge presented to us and Coronavirus has certainly been a challenge. I am immensely proud of how the team have dealt with the pandemic here at East Kent.

Some weeks during the COVID crisis, fewer people attended our emergency departments so it gave us the opportunity to support other care groups: some of us have worked in intensive care, some have supported the COVID medical wards, and we have really supported each other. Some of my staff have been isolating away from their families and their children, just to continue working and caring for our patients. This demonstrates how selfless staff are being even in their time of need.

It has been tiring and emotional but we have supported each other and everyone has worked phenomenally as a team. I am quite humbled by how everyone has just got on with it.

Practically, we have had to make a lot of changes in a very short time. We created COVID and non-COVID streams in our emergency departments so we could triage and treat patients separately, without the risk of cross infection and putting patients at risk.

In a very short period of time we divided our emergency departments, we put in temporary walls, and to be able to treat critically unwell patients and our most vulnerable patients we moved around our resuscitation areas so we could safely administer aerosol generating and lifesaving treatments whilst protecting other patients and our staff. We worked with estates and planning and it just happened, we created side rooms and ante rooms in a few days. Remarkable team working.

We now have separate waiting areas so we can support social distancing; I think we are going to have to start seeing this as a new normal, a new way of working. We have to think about social distancing – we simply can’t go back our peak times in winter where we have a high number of patients attending and crowded waiting areas because that would put our staff and other patients at risk.

I feel very privileged to have been able to continue working, and the way people have supported the NHS has been amazing. We have always been doing our job; we don’t expect special treatment but it has been lovely to have been on the receiving end of so many generous donations and of course the Thursday clapping.

As lockdown is relaxed, I am not thinking about people going to the beach or protests, I don’t have time to think about that.

What I do think about is our staff, and our patients, and how to support them. People of all ages are getting sick from coronavirus. When you are seeing really sick people who are the same age as the people looking after them, it is really difficult. That is not normal for us, especially when they can’t have their relatives with them; it goes against everything we have trained for.

We can’t comfort and support the relatives as we would normally do – and we can’t comfort and support each other as we normally would. Being able to hug each other and to give our patients that support is something we really miss, and when the time comes that it’s safe to do that again we will never take it for granted again.

Zoe Newman is Head of Nursing, Urgent and Emergency Care: East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust