23 June 2020

Our Staff COVID stories highlight how staff have adapted to new ways of working during the pandemic. Here, we hear from social therapist, Sinead MCQuillan, who works at the Coborn Centre for Adolescent Mental Health in Newham. As well as adapting to COVID-19 restrictions, Sinead was recovering from an injury which meant she couldn't work on the ward. But that hasn't stopped her from supporting her colleagues and the young people on the unit as best she can.

What are you doing differently in your work to how you worked previously?
My usual role is as a social therapist in our CAMHS acute ward in Newham, but before lockdown I suffered an injury which has meant I have been helping other teams with various tasks. I came back to work the week lockdown started, and it was certainly very strange, especially as we had high sickness at the time. During this time I was assisting the rota team to mark down sickness and to try and find cover, as well as helping out with the bed management team, so it was definitely very different from my usual role.

What has been the most surprising/interesting thing about how you work now?
Seeing the referral process has been really interesting for me. It has given me a broader sense of how the Trust works together to support each individual - from the community team referring a young person, to the discussions that are had to try and make sure the best care is provided - and an awareness of how many people are involved in these important decision-making processes.

How have the young service users that you work with responded to the pandemic?
My colleagues who are still working on the ward have been keeping updated about our young people. Understandably, the young people found it really difficult at first; they are aged between 12-17, often away from their families and carers for the first time. In addition to this, they have coping with the difficulties of living with a mental health problem as well as having to deal with exam stresses, cultural changes and now a global pandemic. In the beginning, to stop the spread of Coronavirus, we were not allowing any visitors onto the ward which of course was very difficult for them. However, showing great resilience, they gladly took to the virtual options that we provided for them and the OT team provided a great timetable of activities and safe spaces to talk about how they feel. Now the young people are able to see their families and carers, which I think must be a huge relief to all.

What have you found difficult?
For me, it has been really difficult not being able to work on the ward. At times it has appeared to be very tough for the staff on the ward, especially in the beginning when we had lots of colleagues off sick. It was frustrating having to sit in an office when I knew they were struggling and could have done with an extra pair of hands. Sometimes you need an extra break or just some time away from the ward, as it is physically and emotionally demanding. I know for them, wearing Personal Protective Equipment was very difficult, especially when having an emotional or therapeutic conversation with a young person or playing sports outside in the heat.

How are you staying in contact with your colleagues?
Luckily I still get to see my colleagues, of whom most are my friends too. I consider myself incredibly lucky in this as I know this has not been the case for many over the world. More recently I have been meeting with colleagues in the park, for a social distanced walk and drink which was really lovely. Plus I have been joining in with an online art club which one of my colleagues set up early into the lockdown; it was a really relaxing way of catching up and practising a new skill.
What do you think has changed for good?
I think the general public have become more aware and thankful for different parts of society such as healthcare workers, cleaners, delivery drivers, etc. It has helped to humble the nation a little. Personally, it has made me very grateful for the smaller things that were taken granted before lockdown, such as being with friends and family, travelling and seeing new cultures and tasting different foods and experiencing new things.