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Royal Free nurses ‘queued’ to help colleagues with ebola

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There was a “queue” of nursing staff ready to volunteer to help treat colleagues infected with ebola at the Royal Free Hospital’s special isolation unit, despite the risks involved, a senior nurse has said.

The high level isolation unit at the Royal Free in Hampstead treated three UK nurses – Will Pooley, Anna Cross and Pauline Cafferkey – during 2014-15 after contracting ebola while volunteering in Sierra Leone.

“We were absolutely determined that that we were going to do everything we could to ensure they left the unit alive”

Breda Athan

As reported earlier this week, Ms Cafferkey recently made a full recovery after being readmitted in October with a delayed complication of the disease.

Breda Athan, the senior matron and lead nurse for the high level isolation unit at the hospital in north London, said: “Everyone knows how difficult it can be to fill nursing shifts…would you believe, we had a queue of nurses wanting to work on the unit.

“This included nurses from across the hospital, different specialties and the wider NHS,” she said. “No-one had to be asked twice to do a shift.”

She added: “The focus and intensity of a full multi-disciplinary team working with a single patient, all with the same aim, lead to an extraordinary experience.

“We had support from everywhere from facilities to communications, right across the organisation,” she said. “It was a joint effort between the nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, engineers from the estates department, massage therapy team, security, catering and many more.”

Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Free nurses ‘queued’ to help colleagues with ebola

Breda Athan addressing the 2015 Nursing Times Awards

Ms Athan was speaking last night at the 2015 Nursing Times Awards, where her team at the Royal Free received the “special recognition” award.

She also paid tribute to the three nurses themselves who had gone out to west Africa to help the victims of the ebola outbreak in 2014.

“I am in awe of what they achieved in such difficult circumstances and that is why it has been such a privilege to care for three people who selflessly volunteered to nurse those in such dire need,” she said.

Ms Athan said the fact that their three patients were nurses “meant that none of us wanted to let them down”.

“They were all so scared when they arrived and to be honest, so were we,” she said. “We had three people who had all cared for patients through various stages of the disease and for the most part had not been able to save them.

“We were absolutely determined that that we were going to do everything we could to ensure they left the unit alive,” she said. “I am so proud that all of the nursing team were relentlessly positive and really believed that we were going to pull them through.”

Ms Athan also described what it was like using the unit’s Trexler Isolator tent, which is housed within a special negative pressure room.

“They were all so scared when they arrived and to be honest, so were we”

Breda Athan

At any one time, at least four nurses were on duty caring for one patient, but for some patients this was increased to six – four within the room and two acting as runners outside.

Because of the protection provided by the isolator, Ms Athan said nurses were able to work in scrubs, which made it much easier than donning and removing personal protective equipment and also had the advantage of meaning nurses could spend much longer with the patients.

“We worked 12-hour shifts (six hours in, six hours as a runner ),” she said. “And this was crucial because we built relationships that allowed us to support our patients during an incredibly stressful time.”

The annual Nursing Times Awards were presented last night at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. Download our brochure to find out who else won an award.

Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Free nurses ‘queued’ to help colleagues with ebola

NT editor Jenni Middleton with Breda Athan

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