Covid 19 has provided an unprecedented challenge for healthcare in the UK, with great demand placed on NHS staff. We have all clapped for NHS workers and heard reports of the challenges faced by nurses but as we approach two years since the first cases in the UK were identified, and with daily cases rising to over 200,000 recently, I spoke to Kieron, a Ward Manager at The Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea, who provided me with an invaluable insight into what life as a nurse has been like during the Covid 19 Pandemic.  


Kieron explained that the main aim during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020 was to “prevent the virus from entering the hospital”. This was vital as The Royal Marsden is a specialist hospital whose patients are from groups who are at higher from the virus. Therefore, the hospital was locked down quickly, with specific wards and areas being isolated; with staff in different areas prevented from interacting freely. Kieron quipped that the nurses could “not just pop out to ‘Pret’ for a sandwich”. Food had to be delivered to staff on their wards and all non-essential footfall was stopped. “The entire movement of the hospital was slowed down”.


During the first wave of the pandemic, Kieron explained that it also became very “difficult to recruit nurses”, with staff training being paused until eventually, some aspects moved online.  This made it difficult for new trainees to learn their roles, especially given that nursing is a very practical job and needs to be taught in person. Staff redeployment was an essential weapon against this resource challenge with non-clinical resource being upskilled to cover clinical roles and with Critical Care Units in London full, nurses with a Critical Care background were transferred to the front line at other hospitals. Kieron described the pressure on staff associated with these changes – “unfamiliar environments”, “different processes and colleagues” and a serious and life-threatening virus all contributed to a relentlessly intense experience for them.


In Kieron’s words, there is no doubt that “the vaccines were a gamechanger”, but now there is a new challenge to deal with, as Omicron sweeps through the work force of The Royal Marsden and hospitals in general. As staff fall ill, other nurses have to cover extra shifts, often at short notice. One nurse said that she “has not seen her kids for days”, due to the additional hours – this was not a complaint however, which gives a sense of the dedication of these nurses to cover for each other and to ensure that their patients remain cared for properly. 


The pandemic is a strategic, logistical and ultimately human battle for healthcare staff. Their flexibility, adaptability and drive to support their patients, each other and nearby hospitals must be admired and greatly appreciated.