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University trains up 170 extra intensive care staff to fight pandemic

Pictured: Naomi Jenkins, Lecturer in Adult Nursing - Acute Critical Care at Bangor University. Picture Mandy Jones

170-strong team of nursing staff have been trained to work in critical care units across North Wales and save as many lives as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The reinforcements have completed a fast-track course supported by Bangor University’s School of Health Sciences, more than doubling the numbers available to work in the region’s Intensive Care Units.

As a result, the upskilled staff are ready to start working on the coronavirus frontline at Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Bodelwyddan and the Maelor in Wrexham.

A key role in the three-day course was played by a team led by Health Sciences Lecturer and experienced critical care nurse Naomi Jenkins which brings the number of nursing staff available to work in intensive care in North Wales up to approximately 380.

It was set up in response to an appeal from the Chief Executive of NHS Wales, Dr Andrew Goodall, for extra personnel to be trained to support ICUs across Wales.

The new teams of nurses are now ready to go live across the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board’s three general hospitals to meet the challenge of the escalating health crisis.

Naomi, from Northop Hall, in Flintshire, spent almost ten years in the demanding role of an ICU nurse before taking up her post at Bangor University and still does shifts at Glan Clwyd Hospital.

She said: “It was very full-on but we put day one, the theory day of the course together in just 80 hours with colleagues from Glyndwr University in Wrexham, and days two and three were arranged by our colleagues in the Health Board.

“Patients in ICU are so critically ill and things can change very quickly so if you’re not used to it, it can be very frightening. It’s your responsibility, someone’s life is in your hands and that’s huge.

“There’s a lot of equipment to get used to and a lot of drugs and you have to be able to get up to speed very quickly when you’re in there so I’ve got huge respect for the staff who have stepped forward.

“Some of them felt they should come back because they’ve worked in ICU before and some have just wanted to do it. I always loved it and wouldn’t want to work in any other branch of nursing.”

The volunteers have been drawn from staff with similar skills and expertise to the ICU including dealing with anaesthetised patients and all three main hospitals across North Wales have used the training resource.

There was a three-week window to deliver the course and so far 170 members of staff have been upskilled – while a further 20 have since volunteered – adding to the over 200 ICU nurses currently spread across the three hospitals.

Naomi, who has herself volunteered for the ICU teams, added: “When you look after someone critically ill in ICU it’s one nurse to one patient and it’s not just about ventilator training but all the things that go with it.

“Teaching someone to use a ventilator isn’t straightforward, it’s about looking after the whole person while they’re attached to the ventilator.

“There is constant patient monitoring, therapeutic treatments, documentation, personal care, and regular patient repositioning which requires enormous team effort.

“The new recruits are probably very apprehensive about it all, but the staff they will be supporting are very grateful to them because they know what it’s like to be new.

“It’s not what everyone wants to do. These people are experts in their own areas so all credit to them for supporting their ICU colleagues.”

Dr Lynne Williams, the Head of the School of Health Sciences at Bangor University, said: “This is a great example of work from staff at the School of Health Sciences who are contributing to supporting the NHS in different ways in response to the pandemic.

“The course that Naomi and others have been involved in developing is helping to upskill and provide the required knowledge and confidence for staff usually not working in critical care areas.”

There has also been praise from Martin Riley, Head of Education, Commissioning and Quality at Health Education and Improvement Wales, who said: “Taking staff out of the hospitals now has not been not ideal but this is a necessity to build resilience in the system when the pandemic escalates.

“This is an excellent example of a higher education partner responding with urgency and professionalism to what is a critical situation. Particular thanks go to Naomi Jenkins and her team within Bangor University who have made this possible.

“We had a three-week window to get as many through as possible to assist the Service at the time of greatest need and during this time they have delivered training to 170 members of staff – over 500 days of training in just three weeks.

“That’s been an incredible effort and as commissioners of Health Professional education we are really proud of the collaborative work and responsiveness of our University colleagues during this crisis.”