Coronavirus in the Highlands: health and care workers showing solidarity in rising to the challenge

It is now over three months since the spread of Coronavirus was declared a pandemic.

And in the Highlands as elsewhere health care workers have shown enormous levels of commitment, solidarity and professionalism to both prepare, and deal with, the country’s greatest crisis since the war.

Health and social care professionals across Skye, Lochalsh, South West Ross and Lochaber have been highlighting how they have worked closely with Highland Council, key workers, community groups, the independent sector and the public to face the challenge of Covid.

The Free Press was asked to share and contribute to this message – and we were only too happy to lend our support.

Significant work has been carried out across the region to realign departments and ensure NHS Highland is best prepared to treat and care for patients with any urgent medical problem.

Dr Willem Nel, who is NHS Highland’s Clinical Director (West), lives and works on Skye.

He said he had been “extremely impressed” by the solidarity that has been shown in ensuring local services are as prepared as they can be to face the challenge.

He added: “Health and social care professionals from across primary and secondary care have pulled together to ensure services are robust – to help care for patients with Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 related illness.

“We will stand and fight as one.”

Working together

In a show of collective strength NHS Highland have received solidarity statements from a wide variety of staff groups, councillors, key workers, community groups, the public and local media.

Dr Nel added that this is by no means an exhaustive list “but the tip of the iceberg of solidarity shown by every one of us facing the challenge ahead”.

Dr Alistair Innes, Clinical Lead Rural Emergency Physician, explained: “The Rural Emergency Physician team at Mackinnon Memorial Hospital have been working diligently with all staff groups in Broadford and in Portree to ready the Skye, Lochalsh and South West Ross Hospitals and out of hours services for the challenges that Covid may bring.

“For many years we have operated as one hospital across two sites caring for patients in MMH and in Portree, as well as delivering the emergency medicine and OOH services to the population that we serve.

“The efforts of all the teams involved in delivering this has been remarkable – from all staff groups including medical and nursing, physio and OT, midwifery and radiography, hotel services, handyman support and management and social work input.

“There has also been considerable support from our colleagues in GP Practices across the area and from the community.

“We are as well prepared for what difficulties may lie ahead as we could be, it is a testament to the support of so many in very unusual times.”

Huge change for staff

Dr John Wallace, General Medical Practitioner, Lochaber District Medical Lead (community) said: “All community and hospital teams in Lochaber have had to adapt rapidly to different ways of working.

“Preparing for the pandemic has brought together many different health and social care professionals and cooperative working has been key.

“This has meant huge changes for some staff.

“For example the dental unit in Fort William Health Centre has been transformed by the NHS Highland estates department to become our Covid community assessment centre.

“Many of the dental staff are now at the front line delivering this service.

“Running the COVID assessment centre has also required close cooperation between local GP practices, community nursing and admin teams, domestic services and district management.

“Other departments such as the mental health team, podiatry, physiotherapy, pharmacy, occupational therapy, health visiting, social care , home care and dietetics have had to change the way they deliver care but remain very responsive and committed to ensuring the care needs of the most vulnerable are met.”

Catherine Shaw, Remote and Rural Support Team Lead Nurse said: “The support we receive in Portree from Mackinnon Memorial Hospital is absolutely invaluable. As a team the support we receive from the Rural Emergency Physicians is priceless.

“We simply couldn’t do what we do without them.”

Pride at the response

Kate Earnshaw, District Manager (Skye, Lochalsh and West Ross) said she “cannot be prouder of our hospital and community service”.

She added: “We are one team. The commitment and dedication I am seeing on a daily basis in all sectors is humbling and I would personally like to send a huge thank you out to all our staff who are a credit to NHS Highland.”

Eileen Cumming, Senior Charge Nurse, Broadford Hospital said: “Covid 19 is affecting our lives and our communities all around the world.

“We are in this together. We are stronger together. We are united in our commitment to the health and well-being of the people of Skye, Lochalsh and Wester Ross.”

Helen, Alison and Sarah, Radiographers said their team had consolidated resources to MMH to ensure a more robust 24/7 service and also to provide imaging in the dedicated Covid resus unit. “Due to being a small team of only three members, staff flexibility will be key to maintaining this,” they said.

GPs are open for business

Dr Kirsty J Shaw, GP Principal for the Skye and Lochalsh Cluster stressed that “we are very much open for business”.

She added: “The day to day routine of General Practice has been turned on its head.

“However, thanks to the hard work and dedication of our teams of receptionists, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists, managers, cleaners, couriers and NHSH support staff we are still working and doing our best to ensure patient care continues during lockdown.”

Dr Helen VA Stewart, Wester Ross Cluster Lead GP, said the practices of Ullapool, Gairloch and Aultbea, Torridon, Lochcarron and Applecross have responded to this current crisis with “outstanding displays of teamwork, resilience and self sacrifice.”

“Many have cancelled planned holidays and some have returned early or worked on to cover absences,” she added.

“This is not just the doctors. Ancillary staff have stepped up in a way that humbles the professionals.

Rena MacLeod, Area Care at Home Manager said the “dedication and selflessness” of her team during this pandemic has been exemplary.

“It is a privilege to serve our community and know we are making a difference,” she added.

Inter agency

The message was echoed by ambulance crews.

Alan Main, Paramedic Team Leader for the Scottish Ambulance Service in Kyle of Lochalsh, said: “I’ve found that since the onset of Covid-19 the level of inter-agency support has been excellent.”

Jon Hanley, NHS HIghland’s Integrated Team Lead for Skye and Lochalsh, said: “ I am really pleased to see how staff has actively worked outside of their usual roles and structures, covering colleagues who are absent, ensuring that services to individuals and their families are maintained as they move between hospital and community based care.”

Ian Macfarlane, Physiotherapy Professional Lead said he had seen, in both the hospital and the community settings, “a coordinated and unified approach to care”.

Ordinary people doing selfless things

Councillor John Finlayson on behalf of Ward 10 Members, added: “As well as being grateful for what frontline workers are doing for us we should also be proud of the people who we live and interact with on a daily basis, as they have stepped up to the mark too

“I and my fellow councillors have seen the real meaning of solidarity and resilience as ordinary people and volunteers have done selfless things to support those around them.

“From official volunteering to community kindness people across our area have sought to help others in so many ways.”

From the West Highland Free Press, our message was summarised in a recent editorial, which said: “The West Highland Free Press commends the outstanding response to the emergency in Skye and across the Highlands and Islands.

“It cannot too often be repeated how much we owe to the women and men of our National Health Service. Everybody there, at all locations, is on the front line.

“Doctors, administrative staff, paramedics, nurses and all other NHS workers are daily exposing themselves to danger.

“They are doing so with grace and courage, fortitude and goodwill.

“Together they show a face of our country, which is too little acknowledged in ordinary times, but which makes us better as a society.

“From island to island, township to township, one cliche has proved to be true: we are all in this together.

“And we need not be the worse for that.”