Forum focus: we need to plan for the aftermath of COVID-19

Nurses must look after each other during and after the pandemic

Nurses must look after themselves and each other during and after the pandemic
Picture: Press Association

It’s hard to know where to start a column at the moment. We are in the midst of a pandemic, the likes of which we have never seen before and, as healthcare professionals, we are on the front line.

But what do we mean by on the front line? What are the implications of being there, and where does it start and finish? The issue where the implications for nurses of being on the front line are clearest is that of personal protective equipment (PPE) provision.

Whenever I attend RCN congress, I am reminded of the breadth of settings that we nurses work in, from businesses and care homes to the third sector and higher education.

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As this pandemic has evolved, it has become apparent that nurses working in nursing homes are often in desperate need of PPE. There is no question that they too are on the front line.

Face-to-face interaction with people with COVID-19

In my day job as chief executive officer of Age UK Camden I and my colleagues have been working with acute hospitals to support people who are clinically stable and can stay at home or be discharged home with some social support.

This programme helps ensure that demand does not exceed capacity for acute beds. Our role can involve face-to-face interaction with people with COVID-19 and, although we may not be seen as being on the front line, we too need PPE.

Wherever nurses work we have a duty of care to protect our patients, but we also need to look after our colleagues, ourselves and our families.

The supply chain for PPE is fragile and current global demand is soaring.

In addition, the care sector can be fragmented, with no centralised procurement and provision across many areas.

Nurses’ mental health needs must be addressed

Once this pandemic wanes and the need for PPE diminishes there will be much to be learned. The social fall out and mental health needs of staff will be the next major challenges, which must be addressed centrally whatever the context of the care being provided.

The government has had due notice about this and there is time to plan. I have no doubt that, when we are together at RCN congress again, we will be fighting for the care we will need in the aftermath of the pandemic, wherever we practise nursing.

Picture of Nikki Morris

Nikki Morris, @nikki_a_morris, is chair of the RCN cancer and breast care forum and chief executive officer of Age UK Camden