Coronavirus: Nurses at the Royal Free ‘jumped at the chance’ to move to Covid-19 wards, and are encouraging others to do the same

Royal Free nurses who have been redeployed to coronavirus wards. Picture: PA/Royal Free

Royal Free nurses who have been redeployed to coronavirus wards. Picture: PA/Royal Free - Credit: Archant

“It’s stressful, but I’m loving it. It’s nice to be back on the shop floor.”

Anthony Grout and Kathleen Smyth are both nurses at the Royal Free Hospital.

Usually, they work in pain management, but with the NHS needing all hands on deck amid the coronavirus crisis, they both volunteered to help out on the frontline intensive treatment units (ITUs) and are now encouraging other nurses to step up and offer what help they can to the clinicians treating the illness.

The nurses told this newspaper why they chose to grab a face mask and head to help the sickest coronavirus patients in our hospitals.

Colindale man Anthony, 40, said: “It’s stressful, but to be honest I am loving it. It’s nice to get back on the shopfloor so to speak and to use all of the experience I have gathered as a nurse. It’s nice to use that experience to help nurses on the end of a stressful situation.

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“It can be quite overwhelming. It’s nice to give them a hand.”

As the NHS tackles the pandemic, hospitals like the Royal Free have been reconfigured in order to maximise ITU beds and the availability of staff who are able to look after patients.

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Anthony added: “Obviously the patients are very sick. There are more intensive care beds and so we need more staff to work with them. There are nurses and doctors who don’t usually work in ITU helping the existing teams.”

Kathleen, 54, has been sent to Barnet Hospital – also part of the Royal Free London NHS Trust – where she too has been caring for coronavirus patients.

She said: “We could see what was happening with Covid-19, we knew it was coming – we were waiting. I have some very good friends abroad in Italy, and I was chatting to them to see what was happening. I wasn’t scared, but I was a bit apprehensive.”

Kathleen and Anthony’s redeployments come as part of a drive from Capital Nursing – an umbrella body which helps NHS trusts across north London with nursing recruitment – to encourage those nurses currently not practicing to don scrubs and PPE and help hospitals deal with the crisis.

Both Kathleen and Anthony said the training and preparation they received before moving onto a coronavirus ward calmed any anxieties.

Kathleen said: “Though I was a bit anxious, by the end we all felt better. We went through things like the donning and doffing of PPE, and after that, we were all geared up to go and help.”

And what are the re-deployed nurses doing? Anthony said: “Obviously the patients are very sick. There are more intensive care beds and so we need more staff to work with them. There’ll be nurses and doctors who don’t usually work in ITU who are helping the existing teams.

“As a buddy I will help the nurse do observations, give drugs and help do personal care for patients. I am there to help them, and wouldn’t be expected to do anything I wasn’t okay doing. It’s really positive to see everyone pulling together. Everyone is very stressed out, but when somebody said to me: ‘Do you want to go onto ITU?’ I didn’t hesitate. It’s like riding a bike.”

Kathleen added: “The whole thing is, obviously, quite shocking. And it looks from the outside like you’re incredibly busy, but on the ward you are just assigned a couple of patients. And then you’re taking care of what aspects of their care you can.

“For anyone considering coming back, don’t be anxious. It is very well organised. And far as I am concerned, the basics of good patient care don’t change. Any nurse has something to offer.”

Anthony agreed, saying: “Any nurses who come back will not be asked to do anything they are not comfortable doing.

“Any help at all is ace. Now matter how little. Everybody is pulling together and doing their best to help out.”

If you are a nurse currently not working and want to offer your services to the NHS, contact the CapitalNurse North Central London Bring Back Bureau on The team have Maggie Pratt, aregistered nurse, available to discuss the worries or concerns of anybody who is unsure or lacking confidence – and they can also help you through the returning process. For general guidance, see

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