'My moral duty': the ex-NHS staff going back to fight coronavirus

A doctor, nurse and a paramedic say they feel compelled to offer their services at a time of crisis

The medical scientist, 62

Nick Mudge spent nearly 40 years in the NHS as a doctor, retiring two years ago, and has recently joined the thousands of medical professionals heading back to the service to join the fight against coronavirus.

“It’s a national emergency and health service workers are very much on the frontline so there’s increased odds that they could contract the virus and we need to maintain a healthy workforce,” said Mudge, 62, who will be heading to work at Poole NHS foundation trust.

Over the course of his career, he worked in a variety of roles, including as head of blood sciences managing a large team.

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Advice about face masks varies. Wearing them while out and about may offer some protection against both spreading and catching the virus via coughs and sneezes, but it is not a cast-iron guarantee of protection

Many countries are now enforcing or recommending curfews or lockdowns. Check with your local authorities for up-to-date information about the situation in your area. 

In the UK, NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.

If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.

He thinks that not only will he be able to bring the basic medical skills required for the job, but the “experience and wisdom of handling crises [that] I think will be very useful”, particularly among a younger workforce.

Mudge said his family – including four children and five grandchildren – were worried but supportive of his decision, although he will have to physically distance himself from his wife at home when returning from work and is fully aware of the risks of catching the virus.

“I’m 62 years old. The figures deteriorate as you get older, but I’ve no underlying health conditions,” he said.

“I would rather catch the virus doing something good and trying to actively help people than skulk away in a corner and pick it up going to the supermarket, so I’m meeting it head-on really.”

The specialist nurse, 55

Louise Jennings, a retired specialist nurse from Lancashire, wants to help where she can. “I only stopped working for the NHS last September but I feel it’s my moral duty to return,” she said. “There’s no reason why I can’t.”

Jennings, who specialises in gynaecology ultrasound scanning, did not receive a letter or email from the government, but contacted Burnley general hospital to offer her services.

“I don’t think I was contacted because I’m still registered,” said Jennings. “I contacted the lead radiographer and they said they would be delighted to have me back.

“I can’t work in an intensive care unit to set up drips, as I haven’t done that for more than 30 years, but I can help with diagnosing cancers. Even with the coronavirus, people are still presenting with these life-threatening conditions and need our help.”

Jennings, who has been a specialist nurse for 18 years and qualified 35 years ago, is not apprehensive about returning. “I’m experienced, I live only three miles from the hospital and can drive there. I’m happy to just roll up my sleeves and get on with it.”

The paramedic, 38

After 15 years with the NHS, James Birdseye left his job as a paramedic six months ago suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after attending a traumatic incident.

He said: “It just felt enough was enough really. After 10 years on the frontline, I was like yeah, I’m done.”

But after seeing the escalating coronavirus crisis, he felt compelled to act. “It’s not something I want to do, but something I feel I morally have to do,” said Birdseye, from Berkshire.

“Just as we’re being asked to sit on our bums to keep everyone safe, if I’ve got these skills I should be using them. For me, it’s a temporary thing, but it’s the right thing to do now.”

At home he has two disabled children, aged eight and 10, but has offered his services to wherever in the country they’re needed, even if that means moving away.

“My family are incredibly worried, particularly my mother, but equally she totally understands why I would have to go back. Although it’s a risk that my PTSD might come back again, it also could be really bad if I do nothing.

“In five years’ time, I don’t want to think I could have helped someone.”


Jessica Murray and Rachel Obordo

The GuardianTramp

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