North London Partners in health and care

Case study: Lucy Freestone

Lucy FreestoneClinical assessor: Hornsey Central Neighbourhood Health Vaccination Centre

Why did you decide to return to practice?

At the beginning of this year, when the vaccination programmes began, I felt a massive pull to go back to my profession and to the NHS. Like a lot of nurses, I felt the NHS had shaped me as a person and I wanted to return in some way to do something to help. I had thought about returning last year but then, when the pandemic hit, I convinced myself that I would be more of a burden than a help.

Why did you leave nursing?

I worked in theatre as a Band 5 scrub nurse when I first qualified and trained in anaesthetics shortly after. I then moved into a research role working for Imperial College Healthcare as a diabetes research nurse. While at Imperial I worked on a multinational trial called LEADER and the pharmaceutical company asked me to work for them managing aspects of the trial. During that job I fell pregnant and, while I was still on maternity leave, I became pregnant with my second child. I decided to take some time out of nursing as I felt I couldn’t juggle my work requirements and family life. 

Did you have concerns about returning?

I was concerned about working in a Covid vaccination hub - not for myself, but more for my family. However, my husband and I decided I should just take the process step-by-step and see how it went. I reasoned that if at any point I didn’t like it, I would pull out. It felt like a big step to take, not only because I felt rusty, but because of having been in lockdown for so long; I was even worried about leaving the house and quite fearful about working in a place where hundreds of members of the public would be. I had to make a leap of faith and trust that it would be handled well. 

How were your first steps back?

As soon as I started training for work in the Hornsey Central hub, my worries lessened. It was obvious that everything I had been concerned about had been carefully considered and safety measures were in place. We were always socially distanced, had excellent PPE and had strict guidance on how many people could be in any one space. Immediately I felt reassured and also felt there was great respect on a human level that we all had families we wanted to protect. 

Were you concerned about being rusty?

I was massively worried I would be a burden, that I was so out of practice and would be a nuisance. Very quickly though I realised a lot of my skills were still there and that life skills I had picked up since leaving were just as important. 

What training did you receive as a temporary registrant?

I did some online modules through UCLH and an in-person training day at Middlesex University. The online training was much like the mandatory training updates but had vaccine-specific information, while the in-person was all vaccine-specific: how to use PPE, injection technique, basic life support, etc. 

Do you feel well supported?

Every step of the way! I thought I would feel silly for asking questions, but far from it and when I needed to write down things to help me feel more confident, no one minded the extra time it took. The team is so helpful and there is always someone right there. There is respect for all and I’ve had so much encouragement in ways I couldn’t have imagined. One day I was talking to one of the volunteers and I was explaining I was on the temporary register and the woman turned out to be Andrea Sutcliffe, the Chief Executive of the NMC; she was so enthusiastic about having me there and said I was the type of person the NHS needed! It has all opened my eyes to the fact that returning to practice is a very familiar thing to most nurses now and that attitudes towards it are so positive. Everyone is delighted you have taken that step and are there working with them. 

What is your role?

I am a paid clinical assessor and am part of the large team that assesses the public before having their jab. I go through their history to make sure they are clinically suitable to have it and I answer any questions. I also have to ensure they are fit to give consent. 

How has returning fitted in with family life?

An important element has been that I have felt in control: I choose my hours weekly and that has made it easy for my husband and I to juggle family life between us. I am at home while the children are doing their learning and I can work in the evenings or weekends or whenever my husband is free. I was very aware of not wanting to overwhelm us as a family and it hasn’t. I feel in control. 

How has returning helped you?

It has been transformative. Truly! I have had such a confidence boost and people have been telling me how well I’ve done and how many skills I have. You don’t always get that appreciation at home! I have missed work and have now found a way to get back that fits in with family life. In addition, realising old skills and previously unused skills have enabled me to help in a time of need has been so uplifting. It has been humbling, too: I’ve met a man whose wife died from Covid, a new mum who has shared her story of isolation and others who have left the house for the first time in a year. The stories are phenomenal. From a personal perspective, I have seen my parents only once in the last year; one of my brothers is stuck in China and the other is shielding. I feel my work means our time together will come that bit faster. So much about the pandemic has been about fear and uncertainty but this work has created such positivity. It was important to stay at home when we were told to, but to be out there doing this work now feels like the right thing. 

What next?

Going on the temporary register has helped me see that returning is possible for me and that I can go on to complete my required hours and become registered again. I now know there is new flexibility and respect for those who choose to return and a new willingness to make it work for everyone.

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