Joan Pons Laplana is a digital manager at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals but has returned to frontline duties during the pandemic and is working in intensive care at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.
In an interview with The Star, the 45-year-old who lives in Chesterfield and in 2018 was named British nurse of the year spoke candidly about how hard the last few weeks have been.
Among other things, he told how he had never been prouder to be a nurse and praised the response by Sheffield’s hospitals to the pandemic but called on the Government to make it a ‘top priority’ to ensure health workers have ‘the right equipment available in advance to do our job safely’.
Why did you decide to go back into intensive care at this time and were you prepared for what you've experienced?I used to work in Intensive care over a decade ago and when the trust was putting together its plan against coronavirus I volunteerws to come back to the front line where my skills were a lot more useful.
The trust gave me intensive training to update my skills and I initially shadowed other nurses in the unit. Slowly but surely I took more responsibility and after two weeks I took my first patient. The support from the trust and my colleagues at the unit has been fantastic.
How hard are things for NHS staff at the moment and does the public support, including the weekly Clap for our Carers, help?
They are hard physically and psychologically but as a group we take care of each other. Also the hospital has given us plenty of psychological support and tools to help us to cope better. These are very emotional times but I have never been prouder of being a nurse.
The public support has been phenomenal. Coronavirus has highlighted and enhanced the importance of the frontline staff and made people aware of the vital work we do. The weekly applause helps. It's always good to be recognised by the public.
How hard is it for patients and for their families who are not able to visit their loved ones, and is there anything staff are able to do to help?
That is one of the hardest things about coronavirus. Because of the risk of infections we are not allowing relatives or visitors into our unit. We are using technology and mobile phones for relatives to communicate with patients who are not sedated. Also we update families over the phone regularly. The trust has ordered more iPads and phones to help patients have contact with their families and friends through WhatsApp etc.
Can you say more about the patients you are seeing?
The patients are all different ages and that is one of the issues with this virus, anyone can be affected. That made me realise how cruel this virus can be.
Is there sufficient PPE available to staff working at Sheffield’s hospitals and what do you think of the Government’s response to the crisis?
My trust has been fantastic. We have been preparing for it well before we had the first case. Some of us are scared but that's a natural feeling for anyone in the current times regardless of being a healthcare worker.
Our trust has been testing and supporting staff since the beginning though which really helps. I do feel the Government should make it a top priority to support staff dealing with the virus by ensuring there is the right equipment available in advance to do our job safely.
Are you proud of what you and your colleagues at Sheffield’s hospitals are doing?
I am immensely proud of being a member of the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals family. The early testing has made a huge difference. Starting staff testing earlier helped to control the spread of the infection in the hospital and allowed staff who tested negative to come back to work and help to continue to provide the excellent care to our patients. Because of that we have been better prepared to absorb the surge in demand due to coronavirus.
What more besides providing extra PPE for NHS workers do you think the Government could be doing to handle the crisis?
I think that government should follow the World Health Organisation’s recommendations and start testing the population en masse. That will help to prevent the infection from spreading further and hopefully end the lockdown quicker.
Do you have a message for the public?Stay at home. This is the best way to be able to stop the virus.