Why I'm coming out of retirement as a nurse to help fight coronavirus

Lots of NHS staff are having to potentially put their families at risk, so is it fair for me to stand by and do nothing?

Elaine Maxwell
Friday 20 March 2020 14:33 GMT
Coronavirus: How to become a 'super-preventer' and help halt pandemic spread

The NHS, like health services around the world, is currently facing an unprecedented demand for high intensity in-patient care thanks to the coronavirus outbreak.

As these patient begin to recover there will be a ballooning demand for rehabilitation support in community hospitals, care homes and people’s own homes.

I believe that the NHS is full of excellent staff, who are learning from the examples of China and Italy, and I’m astounded by the rapid ongoing research and the pragmatic peer-sourced development of treatment protocols in the UK and beyond. But this will not be "done" in twelve weeks.

The four chief nursing officers of the UK asked all nurses who have retired from nursing in the last three years to consider re-joining the register held by the Nursing and Midwifery Council and come back into practice to help health and care services to support patients with Covid-19.

I left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register twelve months ago. I’m not an obvious choice to return to practice as I have been working in academic roles and the last time I worked clinically was ten years ago, but will I step up?

Certainly I will, these are not normal times and there are three main reasons why I have chosen to do this.

Firstly, although I am 61, I have no long term conditions, take no regular drugs and haven’t had significant illness in the past, such as cancer or having my spleen removed. So although my age counts against me, I’m at lower risk from the disease than many younger staff who have diabetes and other high-risk conditions who are currently caring for patients with Covid-19. Staff in hospitals are already overwhelmed and exhausted. How can I expect them to put themselves out if my family need them, if I won’t do the same for theirs?

Secondly, the chief nursing officers are also calling on nursing students, who may have more current knowledge than me but have less experience of fraught settings and perhaps less confidence to speak up. We already know how difficult it is for NHS staff to speak up for patient safety during normal conditions, so it is potentially going to be harder in these extraordinary times.

I was an Intensive Care Unit Sister thirty years ago, and whilst my clinical skills need significant refreshment, I am familiar with the culture and pressure of such units. The senior jobs I’ve held since then mean that I have often worked with uncertainty and risk in a way that our students may not. How can I expect students to take on this responsibility in pressurised conditions if I won’t?

Thirdly, my children are grown up with their own families now, and sadly my parents died some time ago. I don’t have any dependents and I don’t live with any at risk people. If I test positive for Covid-19, this can easily be contained so I am at far lower risk of transmitting the virus than many. But lots of NHS staff are having to make hard choices and potentially put their families at risk, so is it fair for me to stand by and do nothing?

Nursing has been a great career for me, from nursing student to nursing manager, then researcher and academic. I wouldn’t have changed my choices and have been very proud to be a nurse. Although I thought I had left nursing behind, I haven’t forgotten the 40-plus years of theory and practice and the ways in which I could help people in their time of need.

Not all of those being invited to return are in the same position as me, and for some it is absolutely not an option.

Everything is life is a choice based on risk assessment. For me the benefits, personally and for society, far outweigh the risks. Count me in.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in