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Remembering the NHS response to last year’s terror attacks

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At the weekend I was sadly reminded of the terror attacks in London this time last year and in particular the striking image of one of the victims – nurse Kirsty Boden posing with some sunflowers.

Ms Boden, who worked as a staff nurse in theatre recovery at Guy’s Hospital, was killed while going to the aid of the injured on London Bridge.

In a similar way to the off-duty police officers who attempted to tackle the terrorists, she was one of the few heading into the danger zone rather than away from it.

Like the Manchester Arena anniversary several weeks earlier, it led me to re-read our series of articles on the NHS response to the attacks that were written by Jo Stephenson.

For example, Barts Health NHS Trust nurses Fay Kidney and Nicola Rudkin gave moving insights on treating the victims of the attacks that took place on London Bridge and later in Borough Market.

“We see these traumas regularly and so basically acted as we normally do – in a calm, professional manner but it definitely felt different – you could see the shock and fear on patients’ faces when they came in,” said Ms Kidney at the time.

“They were under even greater pressure than usual – both emotionally and physically”

I think this one quote sums up a lot of what most nurses told us of their experience of the events just over a year ago this month. Health professionals did what they are trained to do – professionally, calmly and with great skill.

But on this occasion, if anything, they were under even greater pressure than usual – both emotionally and physically.

Some came straight back in to help, despite having just finished a gruelling shift, and others admitted they had cried once they were home and the enormity of what had happened had set in.

Of course, the earlier Manchester articles had been compiled without the knowledge of the further horrors still to come – and were actually published afterwards due to our monthly print schedule.

In them, we heard from University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust’s Mandy Bailey, Rachel Flatley and Victoria Dale, and from Charlotte Brownhill, Judith Morris and Mari Hopley at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust.

“I thank all of those nurses for taking time out from their busy schedule to talk to us, so that we could tell their story more widely.”

Similar to the London attacks, what shone through was the professionalism, empathy and compassion shown by nurses and other staff in the wake of the attack on 22 May 2017.

I thank all of those nurses for taking time out from their busy schedule to talk to us, so that we could tell their story more widely.

Unfortunately, it takes these sorts of unexpected events – I include Grenfell in that statement too – where emergency plans swing into action and NHS staff perform brilliantly for national newspaper editors to change tack from the usual negativity about waiting lists and care failures.

What it also does is put the work of health service staff front and centre in the public’s mind, with the knock-on effect that this has for politicians desperately craving approval and favourable opinion polls.

I sincerely hope that this knowledge of the extraordinary things that our nurses and other health service staff are capable of when the call comes is etched in the mind of government ministers.

I will finish with a quote from Ms Rudkin, who started working at the Royal London the week following the London bombings in 2005, which really says it all for me.

“Incidents like this show nursing and the NHS at its best, in terms of the commitment and team spirit, and the fact people are willing to drop everything and come to work and help in any way they can,” she said. “It shows how much our staff care and says a lot for us as a profession.”

How Nursing Times covered the NHS response to the 2017 terror attacks :

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