A Rhondda health visitor is back in her community after spending two weeks working on a Covid ITU ward. Ferndale-based Nicole Smith refreshed her critical care skills to support colleagues and patients at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, as community nurses in Cwm Taf Morgannwg adapt to working differently in response to the pandemic.

Since the crisis began, many of our health visitors and school health nurses have retrained to return to a hospital setting and work in acute, occupational health and neonatal teams, as well as carrying out swabs at our Covid testing sites. Nicole, who hadn’t worked in ITU since a placement as part of her general nursing training in 2010, was keen to return to the frontline and completed a three-day refresher critical care course at the University of South Wales, which she described as ‘excellent’ preparation. 

“When the pandemic started, I wanted to support my colleagues in the acute setting and was redeployed to ITU,” said Nicole. “The staff were amazing and I had a warm welcome, especially from Sister Penny, who was very supportive. She buddied me up with an ITU nurse called Carol-Anne, who was experienced, caring and compassionate.

“I was really interested in how Covid impacts the body and respiratory system. It was overwhelming and daunting for us as qualified nurses and I don’t think you can ever really prepare. I was with one patient in particular for a lot of the time, giving reassurance and holding their hand when they were having procedures carried out. The PPE was uncomfortable and hot but we had a break every three and a half hours and staff were all very considerate of each other.

“I am so proud of all the nursing and other staff in the acute settings and feel privileged to have been able to help out on the front line. We’re also really proud of the community nursery nurses, as they were redeployed onto general nursing wards after undergoing two weeks’ training.

“I’d like to thank all the health visitors who kept providing support during the time some of our team were redeployed. Now I’m back in my usual role, I’m so proud to work in such a proactive health visiting team, which has continued to support families in very uncertain times.”

Nicole works in one of two health visitors’ hubs in the Rhondda, with her hub covering Rhondda Fach and the top end of Rhondda Fawr. Health visitors and the families they support have adapted to dramatic differences in community services, with an increase in phone contact and fewer face to face appointments.

Rhondda Flying Start team lead Lesley Matthews said: “Families with day to day concerns and parents with newborns can ring the hubs. We wanted to minimise home visiting wherever possible but we’ve been available on the phone to reassure those who are relying on their health visitor a little more than usual, due to not having their usual support network around them. Where we have carried out home visits, we’ve been in PPE to reduce the risk as much as possible. People understand and are coping.”

Although many community nursing staff are now back in their familiar settings, roles remain fluid, with a number of health visitors still working in occupational health and others covering for colleagues who are shielding. The different ways of working are expected to be in place for some time.

Nicole added; “It’s lovely to have the normality back in my usual role, offering support to the families we already know. The difference between nursing and health visiting is that, with nursing, I handed over at the end of the shift. With health visiting, we have that relationship with the families until the children are five, so we get to know them really well.”

Covid ward role for health visitor Nicole