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On the front line: Working for the NHS, you feel part of something magnificent

Intensive care staff nurse Joanne Morrell on how her job has changed since the Covid-19 pandemic began and how the support of the public is helping.

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Intensive care nurse Joanne Morrell (Joanne Morrell/PA)

Intensive care nurse Joanne Morrell (Joanne Morrell/PA)

Intensive care nurse Joanne Morrell (Joanne Morrell/PA)

As an intensive care staff nurse, Joanne Morrell is having to deal with more patients than ever before while wearing uncomfortable protective equipment for extended periods.

In the latest of a series of profiles looking at workers on the front line of the battle against Covid-19 in the UK, the 47-year-old from Huddersfield tells the PA news agency what life is like right now.

– What was a normal working day like before coronavirus?

We would go into work, start our shifts ordinarily at seven in the morning or seven at night and we finish at half past seven. We go into handover for patients on the ward and then we get allocated one patient.

It’s very close intensive care monitoring, so if your patient’s on a ventilator it’s hourly observations or sometimes more depending on how unwell the patient is.

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Joanne Morell and her family (Joanne Morrell)

Joanne Morell and her family (Joanne Morrell)

Joanne Morell and her family (Joanne Morrell)

– How has that changed now?

We can’t hand over in the same way because we’ve got a lot more patients. Now we’re looking after more patients per staff nurse because of the increase in numbers. Ordinarily you’d go for a break at lunchtime but we’re having to take shorter breaks, just so you can get a rest from wearing the protective equipment.

It feels like we are all one big massive family, all working together to help.Joanne Morell, intensive care nurse

We have to wear it at all times when you are around a suspected coronavirus or a confirmed case. You would have to wear the long gown, the gloves and the face mask, visors and a hair cover. Oh gosh, it’s so uncomfortable.

You get very warm because you’re wearing basically a long plastic bag all around you. It is uncomfortable however it’s a small price to pay to be able to look after people and protect ourselves as well.

– What’s it like being involved in the fight against coronavirus?

It’s like a sense of pride. In the NHS you do feel like you’re part of something quite magnificent anyway – I’ve always been immensely proud to be a nurse and immensely proud to work for the NHS and the trust that I work in, Calderdale and Huddersfield, but even more so now.

It feels like we are all one big massive family, all working together to help.

– How is it affecting you?

More anxiety than usual. Definitely more emotional than usual, a lot more sensitive to things – more tearful than I’ve ever been. But the nature of our job is that we see people at their very worst and we see people die, it’s just heightened.

– How are you coping with the increased stress?

I walk my dogs on my days off. It’s my one daily activity with my husband and two children, who are amazing. They’re at home and they’re waiting for me when I get in. They’re very supportive and listen to me when I just need to talk or we just watch movies and things to try and relax when I get that time.

– Who do you think the heroes of this pandemic are?

I think absolutely everybody that is doing their bit, and that includes people who are staying at home. I was talking to my neighbours who are in their 70s, and she said ‘I don’t feel like I can do anything’ and I said ‘but what you are doing is amazing because even though you don’t see it, staying at home and socially distancing is literally saving people’s lives’.

– What do you make of the public’s support for the NHS?

It’s absolutely incredible. I know that the general public do appreciate the NHS but I think it’s their way now, because a lot of people feel they can’t do anything, it’s their way to show they appreciate us.

We have had so much food and drink given and donated by amazing people to keep us going on shift which is just amazing, just so appreciated. And the clapping is just magnificent.

On the last two Thursdays I’d done a long day on those days and got home at exactly the time that all my neighbours were out clapping and it was just overwhelming. It was really wonderful.

PA