Patients remain the same, but the way that care is organised and delivered around us is changing. We are currently working in a state of flux.
In her latest blog, Claire expresses concern around the lack of clarity and standardised updated guidance available for staff, which is leading to different interpretations of the rules and a lack of trust in our leaders, and highlights the impact this is having on staff and patient safety. She is calling for evidenced-based guidance, clarity, better communication and strong leadership to instill trust and the assurance that patient and staff safety is a core priority.
Patients that I care for remain the same. Medically they are the same as they ever were. They have bowel obstructions, they have heart attacks, they have infections, they break bones, and there will always be a constant flow of patients that need the services of the NHS.
One day it will be you and it will be me, at some point we will rely on NHS care. However, the way that care is organised and delivered around us will change. We have no idea what it will look like in the future, but it will be different to what we knew before the pandemic hit.
At the moment we are all working in a state of flux.
I work part time as a critical care outreach nurse, so there are times when I am not at the hospital for a few days in a row. When I am due back at work, I get what I call the ‘Sunday night fear’. I used to get this every Sunday night before I had to go to school. I would worry about fitting in, had I done my homework, have I got all my books together and whether I was going to have a good hair day.
Now I find myself worrying about what new protocols I need to follow, what briefings have I missed, which wards are green, which are red. Now I have a new habit of looking through work emails to find out if I need to do anything different when I come to work. I’m not enjoying this habit one bit.
I feel like I am starting a new job every time I turn up after two or three days. One of the roles of the critical care outreach nurse is to provide role modelling and support to staff on the wards. More often than not I have no idea what the ‘rules’ are now.
Every decision is difficult.
My patient needs to go to theatre urgently; they are slowly occluding their airway. Before the theatre will take them, they need a covid swab result. How do I get a swab result quickly? A new rapid test is now available (I only find this out by someone telling me this as they were passing). How do I get this swab? Does it look different? How do you perform the swab? How do I send it? How quick does it come back? How do I find the result? How reliable is it (at this point, I’m not bothered – just get it done, tick that box).
Next call – cardiac arrest on one of the wards. Pre-covid we have been taught "Good chest compressions are linked with better outcomes for patients. Keep time off the chest to a minimum". This has been drummed in to us for years. It is now second nature to make sure that chest compressions are given as soon as we confirm cardiac arrest. But now we are advised by our Trust resuscitation team and the Resuscitation Council UK that performing chest compressions is an aerosol generating procedure (AGP), despite the advice from Public Health England who state that chest compressions is not classed as an AGP.
There are a few issues here...
As frontline healthcare staff we want to do the best for our patients, and we want to be kept safe by our employers. We need clarity on what we are supposed to be doing; this lack of clarity and standard guidance leads us into different interpretations of the rules and a lack of trust in our leaders.
I recently taught on an Advanced Life Support Course. Here, I was teaching a range of healthcare professionals from differing hospitals from inner and outer London. I was amazed at the different practices that were going on. Some were wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) for cardiac arrests despite covid status, some were not.
The lack of clarity here made teaching very difficult as they were not sure who was right and who was wrong. They were then worrying if they had been exposed and are now losing trust in their leaders.
In the NHS we use guidance that is evidence based. At present we have such a small evidence base, if any, on how we should treat patients during the pandemic. This is leading to differing local policies of which no one knows which is best.
This lack of clarity and guidance also has an impact on the patient.
If we are to wear full PPE for AGPs (in the cardiac arrest situation) there will be a delay in performing chest compressions; this has a negative impact on patient outcomes. Cardiac arrests are stressful; donning PPE at breakneck speed so that you can treat your patient is compounding the anxiety.
It made me question – if covid is here to stay, should we be rewriting the resuscitation guidelines? Then I thought, how can you rewrite guidance in a time of flux? Things change all the time; nothing is the same from 48 hours ago – so how can meaningful standards and guidance be written if they will be out of date before they get uploaded? And re-writing guidance with consensus from experts and professional bodies takes time. What do we do in the meantime?
At this stage we need guidance, we need clarity and we need to feel we can trust in those that lead us through.
Call for action
We need evidenced-based guidance, we need clarity and we need to feel we can trust in those that lead us through.
How are leaders communicating best practice and updated relevant guidance to staff and instilling trust that patient and staff safety is a core priority?
About the Author
Claire is an experienced nurse of over 20 years. She has worked in numerous specialities in the NHS and in different places around the world, from being a repatriation nurse to volunteering in refugee camps and striking up collaborations with nurses in the USA. Since 2011, Claire has worked as a Critical Care Outreach Sister where her desire for patient safety was ignited.