A student nurse who stepped forward to help the NHS in its time of need has said her hospital felt like a ghost town.
Alicia McCracken, 21, from North Belfast described almost empty wards and people walking around in masks as healthcare workers braced for the coronavirus surge.
She is a final year student at the Ulster University in Londonderry who has been drafted into a ward at Antrim Area Hospital supporting women in the early stages of pregnancy.
People are walking around in masks and there is no buzz about the place, it is completely differentAlicia McCracken
“The hospital itself is like a ghost town.
“People are walking around in masks and there is no buzz about the place, it is completely different.
“When we were there we were wearing masks and goggles to go into each patient.
“Each ward is now amber, which means you have to wear personal protective equipment going in to see each patient even if there is not a confirmed case.”
She began her new job recently working nights.
“The ward was very empty, there were only two patients who had come through accident and emergency.
“Antrim Area had over 200 empty beds that night due to Covid-19 and people not coming to the ward itself.
“The staff were really helpful and friendly and they came down and introduced themselves and made me feel very welcome.
“They were very understanding.”
She felt well-protected.
“It was a bit scary going out.
“When you imagine a hospital you think beds are full and with the Covid cases you think every ward is full but it is not quite like that.
“There was a lot of anxiety going out but the support of staff has made it a lot easier.
“There is personal protective equipment available on our ward and there has been good guidance from Antrim Area Hospital in what order staff are to receive PPE.
“At the same time, we are in unprecedented times and we don’t really know what is going to happen in terms of whether staff will be redeployed or where will we go and it is really unknown times.”
Even as a child I was taking care of bears and baby dollsAlicia McCracken
She said managers are trying to keep students away from patients with confirmed Covid-19.
They are not working in intensive care units or Covid-only wards.
The newly-drafted nurses are being paid a basic salary.
Ms McCracken said it was a job she had always wanted to do.
“Even as a child I was taking care of bears and baby dolls.”