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'This shines a light on what nurses do every day, it is exactly the same passion'

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  • This is the third of our special reports based on interviews with nurses who treated patients caught up in the terror attack on the Manchester Arena
  • The fourth and last in-depth report looking at the experiences of nurses in theatres will be published tomorrow
  • Don’t miss our overall special report: Manchester nurses showed ‘professionalism, empathy and compassion’, published on Monday, and our follow-up report on nursing directors from Tuesday

Charlotte Brownhill is matron for the emergency department and acute medicine at Stepping Hill Hospital in Greater Manchester.

The hospital, part of Stockport NHS Foundation Trust, received casualties on 22 May, the night of the terror attack at the Manchester Arena. Ms Brownhill describes in her own words what happened.

“I think nurses in particular appreciate the value of life”

Charlotte Brownhill

She had finished a full day at work and was at home in the evening when she received a text message from a colleague whose husband is a police officer.

Ms Brownhill said: “At about 11pm, she sent me another message saying, ‘this sounds really bad’, so I put my iron down and already had half a uniform on.

“When I got to work we had just received the first idea this might be a major incident. We didn’t know what the details were, but two walk-in patients had come in with injuries and were saying there had been an explosion.

“About five minutes later, we got the official call and that’s where my pride in the department comes in – they followed the major incident procedure and it worked really well.

“We’d just had a bit of a refresher and that training was still very fresh in our minds, so it was ‘okay this is what we’re going to do, this is who we’re going to call’ and we all put our tabards on.

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“Even our junior nurses behaved with the utmost professionalism, put on their tabards, assumed a role and waited for instruction.

“One of the challenges in the initial phases was the fact we had a full department – patients still have heart attacks and strokes, despite the fact you have a major incident – the world doesn’t stop.

“Once people are wearing a tabard with their designation on, it is quite easy to depersonalise and start following process, so one of my key concerns was trying to make sure each patient received what they needed.

“While you are dealing with a bloody wound or an injured limb, you still have Mr Smith who has got dementia and you’re trying to interpret his ECG – so it was about getting that balance and ensuring we continued to function.

“My staff made my job a lot easier than it could have been, in that I could give an instruction and know it was going to be followed through.

“They were very professional and when they identified problems these were escalated to me appropriately and I didn’t see any elements of panic – people would just come to me calmly and say ‘I need your advice about…’.

“It was reassuring for me, because I felt I could delegate tasks I would not normally delegate because I had confidence in my team.

“We had some international nurses on duty who were on their first night of doing seven nights and they really stepped up.

“Our lively Whatsapp group came into its own – we posted on there that we were on a major incident and were inundated with people offering to come in.

“Everybody’s instinct is to come in, but actually our first rule is to do everything to protect the next shift. So we were able to remind people, ‘under no circumstances do you come in if you are on early or late shift tomorrow’.

“Six nurses just turned up who were not on the next day or on annual leave and we welcomed them.

Stockport NHS Foundation Trust

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Stepping Hill Hospital

“Because I was leading the team in the ED and the most senior nurse there, I was so conscious of looking out for everybody and making sure they were okay – trying to read people’s eyes to see if they needed anything.

“By the time I got home – you walk in on your own and it really starts to hit you and I did become quite emotional. It was the weight of carrying people through the night and making sure everyone was okay, right the way down to the reality of I’ve got three kids and can only begin to think what people must be feeling or going through.

“After any traumatic shift you hold your nearest and dearest, and I think nurses in particular appreciate the value of life.

“I have personally been round every member of staff at least once and there will be three official debriefs.

“I have adapted one nurse’s shifts, because she has been quite shaken. I have taken her off the early starts because she is finding it difficult to sleep

“One was in floods of tears because her mum had called her from abroad and you’re conscious that not everybody has a support network close by.

“I really feel this has brought the department closer together – I have seen it in the way nurses are interacting with each other.

“For me this shines a light on what nurses do every day. They might not face something quite so catastrophic, but every cardiac arrest that comes in you are fighting for someone’s life, and it is exactly the same thing and exactly the same passion you see.”

  • Patients from the incident were also treated at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, Bolton NHS Foundation Trust and University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust
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