Support from staff

In ICU (Intensive Care Unit) people are cared for by doctors and nurses who provide highly specialised care 24 hours a day. In UK ICUs, there is normally a one-one ratio with each patient having their own ‘named’ nurse (see also ‘Patient ICU experiences/Nursing care in ICU’). During the pandemic, ICUs were expanded to cope with the high numbers of sick patients, and there were not enough ICU trained nurses to maintain this one to one care. During the “peaks” or “surges” of the pandemic, one ICU nurses was looking after two patients, or sometimes even as many as six critically ill patients at a time, with the support of redeployed (not ICU-trained) staff. These ratios affected the patients admitted to the ICU and the nurses and other staff working there.

Below you can listen to people speaking about:

  • nurses mitigating loneliness on the ICU and hospital wards
  • experiences with frequently changing staff
  • memories of particular staff members

Support from nurses

In the absence of family members, it is often nurses who made being in ICU less isolating and cheered patients along; this type of care now became vitally important for patients (see also ‘Sources of support in ICU’).

In the absence of anybody to talk to, fleeting chats with nurses was all Carl had to keep him going.

Without family members to visit and with infection control measures in place, patients had no one to hold their hand or soothe them. Touch, the squeeze of a hand or a comforting smile from staff was incredibly important. Nurses played their patients music that family members had suggested, they held their patient’s hands and celebrated important milestones with them, such as birthdays and transfers between wards.

Michael’s nurse played him music that his sister had recommended for him.

Patients in the ICU were often aware of how exhausted the staff were. Brian said he felt sorry for the nurses for having to work under such difficult circumstances, having to wear PPE and working long hours for days on end. Laurence explained: “You’d see a nurse come to see you, visit you at your bed and once they’d finished with you, they would then strip off all their PPE gear, all their aprons, chuck it all away and put a whole new set on to go and do the next guy, so you could just see the difficulty they’ve got in doing their job.”

Brian tried not to ‘complain’ because he felt sorry for the nurses who were visibly exhausted. He is thankful for the care he received from one nurse in particular.

With too few ICU staff for the high numbers of Covid patients needing ICU care, staff from other areas of the hospital, or even other hospitals, came to ICU to take on part of the work (a process called ‘redeployment’). There was a lot of staff turnover and patients were cared for by constantly changing teams. Often redeployed staff were not ICU trained, and they worked under the supervision of an ICU trained nurse. For instance, one person we spoke to recalled being cared for by a heart surgeon. Mark felt some staff members taking care of him lacked ICU experience which affected his care. These were distressing instances for patients as well as staff.

Mark recalled a moment in which a staff member did not immediately know what to do.

Despite these difficult situations, people felt very grateful for clinical staff doing a job they were not necessarily trained for, and the distances that staff travelled to support their colleagues in other trusts.

Despite the rapid turnover of staff, patients did build up a rapport with some doctors and nurses and valued their support. Pete said: “Most of the other nurses were either on a daily basis or maybe two days and then you’d see somebody else. So generally, most of the time, they were always swapping over.” He added: “there was one nurse in particular who was always coming in to check on me and we would have a bit of banter between one another. And those sorts of people, they get you through.”

Remembering particular staff members

In this extraordinary time, special relationships could form between staff and patients, particularly those who had spent a long time on ICU or who had made unexpected recoveries. ICU staff sometimes clapped patients out when they finally left the ICU and went to visit patients on the general ward after they had been transferred out of ICU. Many like Emma, Brian and Ann remembered particular staff members, sometimes in a negative, but frequently in a positive way.

Emma remembered particular staff members, and how they made a difference to her, mostly in a positive sense.

Sources of support in Intensive Care

Sources of support while in intensive care took various forms. This page covers: Communication with family members Contact with other patients Support from friends and...

The general ward

When clinical staff judge patients are improving and no longer need such intensive care, they are transferred from the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) to a...