Helping the NHS test for COVID-19

A day in the life of Clare Duchars, a travel specialist nurse helping to support the NHS COVID-19 testing scheme.

I’ve been a nurse since 1985 and in the last eight years I’ve specialised in travel health, most recently as the Regional Operations Manager for MASTA in the North. A typical day involves travelling to one of the MASTA clinics, covering for travel advisors or teaching new recruits about travel health. When COVID-19 hit, we had to close our clinics. The nurses were furloughed and when I’d helped with that process, it was furlough for me too. I’ve worked since I was 16 and it was strange adjusting, so I was glad when my employers suggested I volunteer to be part of the NHS COVID-19 testing scheme. After completing my training in a park and ride facility in Leeds, I am now training other volunteers to carry out COVID-19 tests. It’s good to be doing something and even better to contribute in a small way to the fight against the pandemic.

6.30am: I have a bowl of porridge before leaving the house. You can’t just snack when you’re wearing full PPE so it’s important to fill myself up until lunchtime. I also drink lots of water on the way to the testing site because again, I can’t just nip for a drink whenever I feel like it, and it’s important to stay hydrated when you’re wearing a mask all day.

8.30am: I arrive on site, have a quick team chat with the other trainers and get the training area set up. We make sure handouts are ready and all the relevant social distancing measures are in place. I also use this time to refresh my memory on any new training processes.

9am: We introduce ourselves to the volunteers and them to us. The number of people we train can vary from six to 14. Most of them aren’t from a medical background so it’s interesting to hear what they’d normally be doing. We teach them the basics on infection control and demonstrate how to put on their PPE as well as wash and sanitise their hands. It feels good to teach others how to look after themselves and takes me back to the main principles of nursing.

10am: The volunteers practice putting on their PPE before we show them how to complete the test procedure. They then practice on each other and we observe them to make sure they’re doing it correctly.

11am: We head outside to the test cabins and call a car up. We introduce ourselves and explain that we’ll be taking a swab from the back of their throat and then putting the same swab up their nose. Some people are shocked by this, but most have read about what to expect. The volunteers watch us do this a couple of times and then have a go themselves. We stand beside them, make sure they feel comfortable and give feedback.

1pm: We all have lunch together. The atmosphere on site is great, we’re a big happy team including the security guards and cleaners. I’ve even had the opportunity to learn some Italian from one of the other volunteers in-between training and testing.

2pm: The afternoon is spent observing the new trainees and answering any questions they may have. It’s important to prepare them for most eventualities. Most people attending for testing are from the NHS, hoping for a negative result so that they can return to work.

3.30pm: We test a woman who has lost her elderly mother to the virus. She’s upset and nervous about being tested. We help to put her at ease, just as I’d do when someone has a vaccination. We discuss this before going home to make sure that the trainees are not emotionally affected by this situation.

5pm: We’re not allowed to wear a watch on site, so you completely lose track of time. When it’s time to head home, I take off my PPE and dispose of it in the cabin. I also take off my outer t-shirt and put it in a pillowcase in the boot of my car.

6.00pm: When I arrive home, I say a quick hello to my family, put the pillowcase along with the rest of my clothes in the washing machine and head for the shower.

6:30pm: I go for a walk with my son before dinner and then decide what to watch on Netflix. I receive a WhatsApp message to tell us how many people we tested today. I’ve also received messages from my MASTA team in our ‘See you on the other side’ WhatsApp group that make me laugh. I feel proud to be a part of both teams.