We hear from Rebecca Storer, a Health Care Assistant (HCA) and UNISON member at University Hospital Southampton, on what it’s been like working through the Covid-19 crisis, and how the crisis has led to innovations in PPE.
I’ve worked as an HCA in the Acute Medical Unit (AMU) at University Hospital Southampton for almost two years. We look after patients arriving from the Emergency Department and GP referrals, support them through initial assessments and treatment, before they are discharged or moved to other wards.
The way things work on the ward have changed quite a lot since Covid, as we have become a ‘holding bay’ for patients awaiting a result for a Covid test. The ward has three sections, and these have fluctuated between ‘Red’ (suspected/confirmed Covid cases) and ‘Blue’ (non Covid cases) in different configurations as demand has changed.
We are lucky here, that supplies of necessary PPE have been maintained, but towards the beginning there was certainly some confusion amongst staff about what PPE is required for what tasks and concerns about safety.
A brilliant new development, which arrived at AMU about 3 weeks ago, is the PeRSo respirator hood. This was invented, developed and brought into production within weeks, by a partnership of Southampton University, UHS and a manufacturer. Around 1000 hoods have been issued to hospital staff with another 4000 still to come. Everyone has their own unit, which must be picked up and returned every shift – at the moment they are stored in two of the hospital’s lecture theatres! The equipment is currently undergoing testing with the hope that it will be certified as FFP3 compliant, which is what is required for staff in intensive care, carrying out the most risky aerosol-producing procedures with Covid patients.
When I was trained and issued with my hood, I have to admit that I didn’t use it straight away. However, once I went for it and decided that I would wear it for a shift, I realised that it is very functional and comfortable.
You wear an air fan attached to a harness, which is connected by a flexible tube to a hood. Clean and cooled air is blown in, and the clear visor gives excellent visibility. It means that we can communicate much better with patients as they can see our whole face. It’s brilliant to be able to smile and know they can see this, and for those who use lipreading to assist with hearing, this makes it possible.
The one downside to the hoods is that the noise of the fan and the fabric over our ears, means that it is much harder to hear. This does make working on the ward more challenging as you can’t hear people speaking unless they are right in front of you.
We are very lucky at Southampton to have been chosen to look after Banksy’s beautiful ‘Game Changer’ piece on behalf of the NHS, and it has been a big lift to see this as we go about our day. I feel unbelievably fortunate to work in such a great team at an excellent hospital and be contributing to the fight against Covid.
I find the ‘hero’ label a bit uncomfortable, as it doesn’t feel like I have had to put my safety on the line or that my work has been especially tough, but I think there are heroes who have made real sacrifices in many different areas of work.
Are you a key worker with a story to share about what’s happening in your workplace in the fight against Covid-19? Then we want to hear from you so we can celebrate you, our heroes, and everything you’re doing.