'I have felt overwhelmed': Nurse speaks out about life on the frontline against the virus

Assistant Divisional Nurse Amanda Hale returned to frontline duties to fight coronavirus Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Amanda Hale has been a nurse for 32 years and for the majority of that time, she has worked in intensive care.

In her day job as an Assistant Divisional Nurse, Amanda helps to organise patient care across areas from surgery to orthopaedics. But when the first coronavirus cases started coming into hospitals in March, she felt she needed to return to where she had started out.

She said revisiting life as an ITU nurse has been "extremely rewarding". She said the people working around her at Newport's Royal Gwent Hospital are a "fantastic team".

But returning to nursing's frontline in these unprecedented times has also been extremely challenging.

I thought I'd seen pretty much everything. I still can't believe that we're nursing and working in this environment.

Amanda Hale, senior nurse

It has been six years since Amanda worked in an ITU. She said coming back to it was "a bit like riding a bike, though probably with stabilisers on!"

Amanda added: "I think it was important for me as a person and as a nurse to share my skills and look after the patients."

With health boards across Wales braced for an influx of Covid-19 patients, the first thing Amanda said she noticed was the cramped conditions, with every inch of space on the ward occupied by beds.

It felt full to bursting, like there were a lot of people there. It felt very dark, almost oppressive.

Amanda Hale, senior nurse
Nurses at Newport's Royal Gwent Hospital don PPE before seeing patients. Credit: Amanda Hale

Like the other nurses and health care workers, Amanda has also had to get used to working in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including gowns, gloves, masks and visors.

She said: "For the first hour you can feel a bit hot and closed in by it all. Then you forget about it because you're concentrating on your patients."

Harder to accept has been the absence of patients' relatives, normally a valuable resource in helping nurses to understand more about patients in intensive care.

"We strongly believe we should be talking to them, touching them, treating them as if they're awake. And part of us being able to do that is getting that background as to what type of person they are from the family."

The Aneurin Bevan Health Board area has seen the largest number of Covid-19 cases in Wales. Despite this, Amanda said hospital staff have been given all they needed, both in terms of PPE and moral support, via a dedicated team of psychologists.

But she says help with wellbeing will have to be "ongoing" after the events of the past few months.

"You are allowed a wobble. I think we've all had one", she said. "We're supporting [staff] now but we're very conscious we're going to have to support them in the coming weeks."

There's going to be some trauma caused by what we've had to deal with which will require ongoing support.

Amanda Hale, senior nurse

The profile of the NHS and its workers has never been higher. Amanda said she and her colleagues have been overwhelmed by the weekly 'clap for carers', together with the donations of food made by well-wishers.

But with fears of a second - and even third or fourth - peak still very much alive, she knows this pandemic is far from over, and that hospital staff will need support for a long time to come.