Wilbrahams Covid-19 Karen Miles

Another in our series of Wilbrahams Covid-19 from a local research specialist in the NHS, Karen Miles.

Martin Gienke

Corvid 19 has thrown all our lives into disarray. Some of us more affected than others. As a research / specialist nurse in the NHS all my usual work has stopped; clinics are closed, and all our usual trials are currently on hold. So, what do I do now from day to day? In the early days of the hospital preparations we packed away all our specialist equipment, emptied and cleaned our clinic and ward areas ready for redeployment. Whilst part of our unit has become a protected area for people with long term lung conditions the other remains empty- each day around 300 beds in Addenbrookes are currently empty. The usual situation in normal times is about seven beds available, or sometimes none. This might be surprising, but all non-essential / non-urgent care and surgery has been postponed. The staff from all these areas- many usually working in operating theatres and clinics find themselves on steep learning curves redeployed to testing pods for staff and patients, answering calls in the call centre, assisting in staff / occupational health or working in ward areas and importantly in high dependency and intensive care.

My clinical background is paediatrics, so I have been helping there following a 2-day training programme to bring me up to speed with our hospital e-records and current bedside equipment such as infusion pumps and monitors. The atmosphere in the hospital is notably up-beat. Everyone is working together, supporting each other. We have free meals right through to 3am, we are provided with free water, tea and coffee, we even have free parking right now and Easter eggs were given out too! We also have lots of masks, aprons and gloves. Masks are worn at all time in all clinical areas. Visitors and parents also wear masks and patients can wear masks if they wish to. This said staff are anxious- colleagues have become infected with Covid-19 and we hear news on radio and TV of healthcare workers who have died. We have become very good at ‘donning’ and ‘doffing’ – putting on and taking off our PPE- personal protective equipment. And our hand washing audits will be excellent from here on.

Whilst our unit is currently empty, we expect it to be extremely busy next week as our Professor, Academic Fellow, senior clinicians and clinical trials team have been working flat out, designing Covid-19 related trials. One trial will investigate the role of anti-malarials in Covid-19. The hypothesis is that individuals treated with anti-malarials will be afforded some protection from Covid-19 in that they might not become infected or if they become infected the severity of their illness will be reduced.

Several Covid-19 trials are already underway investigating a variety of potential treatments and the cause/ aetiology of the disease. These studies have been through a fast-track ethics and regulatory process to enable a prompt start. So, our research unit will be open again if not quite as usual- our usual role is running trials investigating physiology (what our bodies are doing) and pharmacology (role of medications) in cardiovascular disease.  I will be busy recruiting participants to the trials, completing investigations and providing trial medications.

At this point I would like to make a note re key workers- clearly those in healthcare and food production meet this description. IT and engineers too are in this mix- all our medical equipment is safety checked, serviced, calibrated and maintained by bio-medical engineers. Our hospital computers are essential – we operate a near paperless system with all patient records, test orders, x-rays etc on a computer screen. So, tucked away somewhere in the hospital these possibly overlooked busy bees are being kept particularly busy.   Many staff have been supported by IT to work from home and all this has happened in an astonishly short time frame. People’s ability and willingness to step up to the mark or step out of comfort zones and work in new areas has been very inspiring.

I will finish with a hopeful message; our recent numbers of patients with C-19 and those in intensive care do appear to be going down from day to day.  The ITU and C-19 ward areas will begin to have some respite and hopefully recovery time- it’s what we all need, in hospitals, in the community, in our homes. Keep safe all.

Karen Miles  4th May 2020