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Volunteering at the NHS Nightingale Hospital London

Hospital Heroes

If there is a positive to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the ability for humanity to come together in a time of crisis. And perhaps most emblematic of this unity are the countless healthcare workers who are putting their own lives at risk for others.

That spirit of selflessness is ingrained in the culture of St John and St Elizabeth Hospital and is reflected in those of our healthcare workers who have volunteered to work at the new NHS Nightingale Hospital in London – one of a number of field hospitals being set up around the country in response to the pandemic.

We spoke to two of these volunteers to find out what it is like working at the Nightingale and how they are coping in their new surroundings.

Breast Care Nurse, Aimee Mayes has volunteered to work as a primary care nurse on the ward at Nightingale. She says, “It’s quite surreal, the scale of it is enormous and it’s not even anywhere near to full capacity. There are so many amazing people here and the morale and team spirit is nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. But that’s essential because what is happening is quite daunting.”

Aimee’s role is to look after and monitor patients on ventilators. She says, “It’s essentially administering primary care and making sure they are doing as well as can be expected given the condition they’re in. They are all ventilated and sedated so it’s a case of sticking to the daily plan, medication and basic care.

“When you’re on a ventilator you really have to be sedated, otherwise it’s really unpleasant to have tubes down your throat.”

Our Diagnostic Radiographer CK dons full PPE for their shift at the Nightingale


CK is a Diagnostic Radiographer at St John and St Elizabeth Hospital as well as a qualified yoga teacher, both of which have been put to good use at the Nightingale.

“I’ve been teaching the radiology team relaxation techniques during breaks and at the end of the day. There is a specialist wellness team there and they are very proactive at making sure everybody is looking after their physiological and mental health. We had a very informative talk on the importance of looking after your wellbeing during our training day and I am grateful to be in a position to offer my services within the realms of bridging both allopathic and integrative medicine. I’m currently in discussion regarding providing yin yoga and meditation sessions to other teams at their request.”

CK says the induction training was thorough and well organised and there had been plenty of opportunities to learn new skills.

“It can be noisy in the ward and your speech is inhibited when you’re wearing a mask and visor so we learnt some military sign language to help communicate.

“The training is thorough with the objective being that we can all help each other out when needed. We were told from day one that we always look out for everyone, for example, if you’re walking along and you see somebody whose PPE isn’t fitted correctly, you make them aware and assist on the wards offering support where needed as teamwork is imperative.”

Aimee agrees that there is a healthy emphasis on looking after each other both physically and mentally.

She says, “I’ve been with the same people for all of my shifts which is really nice. That continuity really helps. They have a wellbeing team and counsellors waiting after a shift for us if anyone wants to talk about what is going on. They’re really looking after us.

“The medical community is quite close so it’s always easier to talk to those who understand what it is we’re doing and going through. It can be tough what we’re doing but I think nursing is generally tough so perhaps we’re better equipped to understand what is going on and we have pretty good coping mechanisms.

“We’re taught to go away and reflect on experiences and it’s often better to do that with a nursing colleague so you can reflect on a shift together.”

CK emphasizes the importance of knowing your limits and thankfully there is a system in place to prevent people from overburning.

“There are, of course, expectations of you to do the work well but we are encouraged to remember that we’re only human and it’s ok to feel tired or upset and know when you need a break because there is only so much you can do at certain times.”

At St John And St Elizabeth, we are so proud of Aimee and CK and all 22 of our team who have volunteered to work at the Nightingale Hospital in the fight against this pandemic. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.