This is the story of how a time-served General Practice Nurse who, by thinking differently and embracing technology, faced down the challenge to provide continuity in patient care during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Based in the North West of England at the point where the Irish Sea becomes the River Mersey, I am a wife, a mother, a proud owner of two Puggles and, for more than 35 years I have been a midwife, then a General Practice Nurse. Additionally, I work with my regional training hub where I am responsible for encouraging student nurses to enter General Practice, then supporting them in their continuing development. I am also proud to call myself a Queen’s Nurse.
The personal and professional impact of a national crisis
When the pandemic really began to bite, and we entered the first national lockdown, I suddenly realized that I would be unable to provide face-to-face care for my patients and, to compound matters, student nurse placements were paused. Essentially, my roles, my purpose, disappeared overnight and I considered the frailty of my worth as a nurse.
There was a national call for nurses to enter, or re-enter, secondary care and to be completely frank, I found this terrifying. I hadn’t worked in the hospital environment for so many years and it isn’t where my skills lie. Still determined to play my part in a quickly escalating situation, I began to think how those patients who rely on Primary Care might continue to be looked after. Around me it seemed that in every other field of life people were doing their best to adapt, to change, to rethink the ways in which services are provided. Why was no one doing anything in Primary Care? I’d be up for the challenge!
What could I possibly do to help?
For some time, I had been championing the use of group consultations as an additional tool to the Primary Care box of options. The benefits were clear to me and I had begun to prove their worth. Perhaps these could be continued, evolved, reimagined as virtual sessions. Then, if we could get them working, maybe they could help new nurses to see how they might make an impact in a post Covid-19 world. Beyond a casual acquaintance with Facebook I had no technical abilities, but I did have a network which included a range of people with different skills. I set about putting together a working group which could help turn group consultations into video group clinics (VGCs). Within three weeks the first session was held, and it was a success.
So, I’d done my bit, hadn’t I?
Video group clinics, in a small way, were working. The patients liked them and the GP surgery, which had bravely given me the opportunity to try something new, was seeing good results. Was that it? Had I played my part? Had I made a difference? I couldn’t shake that feeling that I had only just started along a path that needed more exploration.
My Eureka moment came not as a bolt of lightning but as a gentle realization resulting from being in the right time and the right place, with a generous sprinkling of chance.
In a WhatsApp working group chat someone mentioned that they had heard something about an opportunity for NHS workers to expand good ideas into initiatives which could have a big impact. Designed to equip fellows with new skills, knowledge and peer support, the Topol Programme for Digital Fellowships in Healthcare, run by Health Education England, was looking for its second cohort of fellows. What’s more, the first cohort hadn’t included anything related to Primary Care.
It looked good, and it would give me the opportunity to take the deep dive into Video Group Clinics that I wanted but, and this was a big but, the previous fellows sounded so clever and impressive and I was ‘just a nurse’. Undeterred, I give myself a serious talking to and applied. Surviving the sift I moved to the interview stage where I spent 40 gruelling minutes presenting my ideas to a panel of experts, then after ten days of waiting, I heard that my application was successful. Great, fantastic, so proud – but wait a minute, now I had to actually do it!!
Oh no, what have I done? This isn’t for me!!!
MAGGI BRADLEY, QN, RGN, BSc Specialist Practitioner
General Practice Nurse
Clinical Nurse Lead, Sefton Enhanced Training Practice (ETP)
HEE Topol Digital Fellow 2021