‘Support for keyworkers needs to translate into real support for the public sector’

We talk to trainee nursing associate Lizz Roberts about working though the pandemic

The lockdown may be easing, but that doesn’t mean things are getting easier for health workers.

Lizz Roberts is trainee nursing associate in an endoscopy unit in Luton, but has been redeployed to war areas with Covid patients during the pandemic.

“I normally deal with cancer diagnosis and those who may be haemorrhaging,” she says, “but working with Covid patients has been challenging and difficult.”

She has to wear full PPE as she carries out high-risk aerosol generating procedures.

Despite the constant fears about the availability of PPE, especially in the early days, she hasn’t had to go without.

“There have not been shortages though waste is kept to absolute minimum with some PPE being classed as sessional rather than single patient use such as the masks — in line with Public Health England guidance.

“There was one weekend we faced a national shortage of gowns and the Trust did look into the possibility of laundering single use gowns. Thankfully, this never really got of the ground as we nipped it in the bud.”

As staff side secretary, she’s seen how important it’s been for hospitals to work with unions.

“At times we’ve had daily meetings with HR leads, the CEO and chief nurse. They have engaged with us on pathways to deal with those shielding and self-isolating as well as being ahead of lifting parking charges and setting up staff wellbeing areas for staff who need more support both physically and mentally.”

The CEO and chief nurse even did a Q&A with the unions to answer unions’ questions, which was then available on the hospital’s intranet.

But it’s perhaps the public support that’s been most encouraging, with an “army of volunteers” needed to help distribute all the gifts.

“The only downside has been the fact that those poor souls who are passing away are doing so without relatives being with them. That has been the toughest thing to deal with.”

But Lizz is hopeful that support from the public means real support for public services.

“Years of austerity have hurt the entire profession. The lack of bursaries has led to the nursing shortages we face today. We wouldn’t have been able to cope without people returning to practice.

“More pay freezes for those who were being applauded every Thursday for their bravery in adversity would be a kick in the teeth.

“We want the support to translate across to future support for the whole public service sector.

“None of us get into this to get rich, it isn’t a job, it’s a vocation. But we should be able to make ends meet and not have to rely on food banks to feed our families — just like bankers and MPs.”

UNISON and the 13 other NHS unions have written to the government asking them to bring forward pay talks to give workers a boost this year.

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