Caring in a crisis - Grace Nabus

"We have all become equal, with one role – to look after the Pensioners."

Grace Nabus
Grace Nabus is a senior staff nurse with responsibility for training. She recently won a Royal College of Nursing Rising Star award, recognising excellence in patient care, innovation and leadership from the black and ethnic minority community. 

As part of a series of articles to celebrate International Year of the Nurse, we spoke to Grace about how the team at the Royal Hospital has coped during the pandemic. 

New ways of working 

Grace already had a demanding role, with responsibilities ranging from delivering training and supervising staff to stepping in to cover for absent staff on the wards. When the pandemic struck, it added considerably to her usual workload:

“A lot of our working hours are dedicated to regular swabbing for the social care staff and the Pensioners. The testing was a welcome addition to uphold safety standards. I live on site, but the Royal Hospital organised safe travel by minivan or taxi for commuting staff, which I helped to organise. I also had much more to do in terms of covering, including night shifts, because we were already short-staffed and then we opened our isolation unit which needed staffing too.” 

Dealing with anxiety 

On top of her workload, Grace has been dealing with the impact on her team’s morale:

“When the lockdown was first announced, the staff were very anxious and because of this some were using PPE excessively and unnecessarily. As a senior staff member, I would explain they had to stick to infection control standards, but I don’t tell them off because I understand they just want to protect themselves. 

Back in March, the management agreed to make infection control the focus of training. As there was no training specifically for care homes about appropriate PPE and how to use it, I found a Public Health England video on putting on masks, gowns and goggles, I also found an NHS video about handwashing with a very catchy tune. They already know how to wash their hands but sometimes you need a quick refresher, particularly nowadays. Matron and I also decided to get a handwashing inspection machine. 

Although some people have been reluctant to work in certain areas, others are very, so it balances out. Staff members look to me for support so it’s important not to show any vulnerability or they might not tell me any issues. I think I have managed things calmly.” 

Clear information, training and testing has helped to reassure staff and, despite the stress they’re under, Grace has been impressed with the team: “A lot of the staff have done a really incredible job, even in the midst of their anxiety.” 

Team work 

Grace has been impressed by how team members have worked together and supported one another – whether it’s by making each other cups of tea, offering words of comfort, or stepping in to help each other out: 

“The staff look after each other. If somebody has a certain disadvantage or disability, those who are more able will do more. One team member has injured her leg and can’t do the more physical things, although she is very willing. So she’ll be the one making tea, doing admin, sitting with the Pensioners, while others will do things like hoisting. 

Whether staff are junior or senior, we all look out for each other and remind each other to wear the right PPE. We have all become equal, with one role – to look after the Pensioners. It’s this kind of care that keeps morale up – and having staff in the ward who are constant and calm helps too.” 

Little gestures to show the staff they’re valued have made a difference too – from gifts of hand cream to help the drying effects of all the extra washing and sanitising, to distributing cheering boxes of chocolates! 

The positivity of the Pensioners 

Another tonic for staff morale has been the Chelsea Pensioners themselves, Grace says: 

“The Pensioners are incredible. One time I went to a ward where there was just one member of staff serving breakfast. A Pensioner had donned an apron and was serving tea and cheering everyone up! A lot of the Pensioners are just naturally funny and even at the height of the pandemic they’ll be joking and that helps the staff morale. Others tend to complain more, but in 

the middle of the crisis something happened and they didn’t complain – they understood. A lot of the staff are very close to certain Pensioners and will do anything for them. If there’s any conflict, the Pensioners bring them together because we all love the Pensioners!” 

The importance of relaxation 

Grace recognises the importance of relaxation. With so much extra stress and responsibility, she knows she must look after her own wellbeing. During lockdown, she discovered a therapeutic hobby:

“On my days off my husband and I would go walking in Battersea Park and I still do that now. It’s very good exercise and you see beautiful views as winter changes to spring and then spring to summer. One of the care staff also likes walking and we compare notes on where we’ve walked.” 

All in all, despite the many challenges posed by the pandemic, Grace feels the staff have coped well:

“I don’t think the Pensioners have seen any anxiety, because there are always people prepared to go that extra mile.”

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