Coming together tea towl

Coming together

Coming together

'It was amazing to work with so many people who were redeployed who were happy to help out. All the teams I worked with just got on with it – and that’s difficult when you think you might die from the virus.’

SH, infectious diseases IMT1 (internal medicine stage 1), north-west England

The COVID-19 pandemic brought colleagues and teams together from across the healthcare professions – and beyond – in a way that our survey respondents had not experienced before. 

Teamwork, camaraderie and collaboration provided moments of comfort and relief amid the uncertainty and fear of the unfolding pandemic. As their day-to-day working lives became unrecognisable, people adapted to new roles and expectations, supported colleagues, and undertook unprecedented challenges in the face of shared adversity. 

Many respondents expressed gratitude for their colleagues, often recording how much they relied on the practical and emotional support they received. Some mentioned their pride at being part of a united community fighting the virus, while others spoke of their surprise and joy at finding something positive in a time of great tragedy.

Tea towel

Tea towel

Donated by L-JS, respiratory and internal medicine consultant, London

L-JS’s working life was completely transformed during the pandemic. Her team became responsible for multiple wards of inpatients, and they established a daily ‘Severe COVID’ multidisciplinary team with colleagues from radiology, rheumatology and others.

‘The most positive experience has been the teamwork within our respiratory department, and across the whole hospital. The sense of shared purpose, the small acts of kindness and the willingness to adapt and pull together has got me through.’

This tea towel was made as a thank you gift for members of the respiratory team at King’s College Hospital, London, following the first wave of COVID-19 (March to July 2020). Their faces were drawn by themselves, friends and children, and recall the tea towels sometimes made by children at primary schools in the UK.

'I am proud of the respiratory team I lead, but this does not sound like enough, it sounds trite and overused. I am humbled by [their] compassion, collaboration, talent and tenacity.'

SF, respiratory consultant, south-east England

‘What also surprised me during the pandemic is the team spirit and the ability to bring back significant organisational change when everyone has a common goal and minor grievances are set aside.’

AE, hepatology consultant, Midlands

Red Runner T-shirt

Red Runners T-shirt

Donated by the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability (RHN), London

‘Red Runners’ were non-patient-facing staff at the RHN who volunteered to carry out essential tasks during the lockdowns of 2020–21. Tasks included making deliveries around the hospital; the items delivered ranged from medical equipment, supplies and COVID-19 tests to lunches and Easter eggs for staff who were restricted to their wards to limit the spread of the virus.

The Red Runners walked hundreds of miles around the hospital grounds wearing these T-shirts. The RHN is an independent medical charity and is not part of the NHS, but the experiences of its staff echo those of colleagues across the country. A member of the Red Runners was interviewed in the hospital’s quarterly newsletter and said:

‘The Red Runners are a heterogeneous mix of staff from very different teams and backgrounds... We never meet as a group, yet there is a real team spirit and sense of conviviality. I’ve really enjoyed running with the team.’

Interim doctor badge

Interim doctor badge, 2020

Donated by JC, FY1 (foundation year 1) doctor, south-west England

Foundation year 1 doctor JC worked as an ‘interim doctor’ during the pandemic, missing his final examinations and graduating early to assist hospitals during the first wave. He wore this badge during the first wave of COVID-19 to communicate this novel status.

‘I worked […] first as a medical support worker and then as a doctor when my GMC [General Medical Council] registration was confirmed. Usually you go to FY1 (foundation year 1) in August after finishing in June. Due to the pandemic my final year examinations were cancelled and I started work in the NHS in March [2020]. This new role was called “foundation ‘interim’ year 1 trainee”. It is the first time this role was ever used and I suspect maybe it won’t be used ever again! (Fingers crossed).’

JC recalled the realities of working as an interim doctor:

‘I entered medicine in COVID times. I, so far, have never experienced a ward round as a doctor without gloves and aprons. Without PPE [personal protective equipment] […] I had these [frank] discussions in the first few months of being a doctor. It has framed my experience as a doctor and has been difficult.’

AL, cardiology consultant and honorary senior clinical lecturer

AL, cardiology consultant and honorary senior clinical lecturer, north-east England and Yorkshire, March to May 2020

Photograph by Jessica van der Weert                    

‘As I look back on these times I am pleased to reflect that I stepped up without consideration and hopefully made a difference. I was proud to work in my team. Through all the media hype and the constantly changing advice, we were always there for each other. Thank you to the NHS and [e]specially “Team Northumbria”’.  

AL’s portrait was captured by photographer Jessica van der Weert, who spent many days from March to May 2020 photographing healthcare workers across Northumbria Health Care NHS Foundation Trust:

‘It was an emotional experience, initially exciting but at the same time rather stressful. I was very aware of the huge responsibility, the trust I had been granted, the subject matter and its historical importance.

‘Once on location most of my fears disappeared due to the warm welcome I received, which was remarkable considering this was the first lockdown, staff were working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. What was very apparent was a tremendous sense of camaraderie and support for each other, which I felt truly privileged to witness and consequently made shooting the portraits a very enjoyable experience.’

Crocheted coronavirus

Crocheted coronavirus, December 2020

Donated by L-JS, respiratory and internal medicine consultant, London

L-JS made this crochet coronavirus and another, larger version from a pattern by Teaberry Designs:

‘I poured my anger towards the virus into crocheting, and then put it up in my office, and encouraged my colleagues to come and punch it if they were having a day where they were particularly annoyed about COVID because it ruined our lives temporarily and ruined lots of people’s lives forever.’

The crocheted pattern is a remarkably accurate representation of the SARS-CoV-2 (2019-nCoV) coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease. It includes the protruding spike proteins (the red parts), as well as the flatter membrane and envelope proteins (the yellow and orange parts).

L-JS, talks about making the crocheted coronavirus [with transcript]

L-JS, Crocheted coronavirus

Yeah, I was saying that one of the things I’ve done through the pandemic is try and distract my brain, and I can’t mediate I’ve tried lots of times before and I’m really bad at it. But I can do, kind of, art, that takes my head to a different space. And knitting is one of the ones, crochet and knitting, one of the ones that, because it’s so repetitive, but also something grows from, you know, some sticks and some bits of string, it’s quite meditative. And I happened to see a pattern for the coronavirus, obviously, like, literally if you can imagine anything in existence there will be a crochet pattern for it somewhere because people are amazingly inventive. And so, I saw this pattern, so I spent a weekend crocheting this coronavirus. And what was so impressive about the pattern is that it was really thoughtfully done so it’s got the coronavirus, it’s got its little spike proteins, and then it’s got its other little specific markers, proteins, on the edge of it. So, it’s a very accurate crochet rendering of the coronavirus. So, I made this coronavirus and sort of, yeah, poured my anger towards the virus into this crocheting and then put it up in my office and encouraged my colleagues to come and punch it if they were having a day where they were particularly annoyed about COVID, because it’s ruined our lives temporarily, and ruined lots of people’s lives forever and it’s just been such a flipping nightmare. So, it’s in my office still and I – yeah, it’s available for stress relief when necessary [laughs].

Transcript: JC speaks about graduating early

JC – Graduating Early

It was kind of weird. As a first-year medical student then, I was trawling through the medical school, like, documents and things, looking for various different things, and they had in their documents, they had a Pandemic Response Document. This was back in 2014. And it said, you know, ‘If there was a pandemic, this is what we could do.’ It was, you know, second-year medical students could give vaccinations, it was, final-year medical students could be graduated, and I really, I vividly remember looking through this document thinking, ‘Cor, Imagine that! Imagine graduating doctors early. Imagine getting fourth and third year medical students to vaccinate people and imagine having to re-sit years because all of the lecturers that you would usually have would be working in a pandemic.’ Like, I vividly remember looking at that document thinking, ‘Imagine that!’ And as soon as that was becoming, we’re all becoming more aware that that was an eventuality, that sort of document became more and more important I suppose. And I remember Jeremy Hunt on a news interview, it was the first time that we became aware of it was, ‘Actually, you know, we might have to get medical students to help.’ And that’s a weird, a weird concept but it’s like, ‘Oh, actually they are seriously considering this.’ You know, it was something at the back of my mind, but they are really thinking about graduating us early and that was quite daunting, I suppose, at that point, yeah.

Really, really strange time to start working. For other colleagues, who I mentioned, who are on respiratory wards and coronavirus wards for maybe eight months of their twelve months first-year of starting, if you think about them. They’ve had no variety in training, and treating coronavirus patients, it’s not varied or interesting in the end. You can do your job well, you can communicate with patients well, that is your job as a junior doctor, but it’s just patient after patient. The same thing happens, and the variety of training -- for me, I’ve been lucky, but the variety of training of other doctors I imagine, you know, it’s hugely reduced, you just see the same thing. There’s no diagnostic questions. You know what the diagnosis is, you know, and that’s not necessarily why you become a doctor. Starting in a pandemic is just a strange, you know. I haven’t seen any of the faces of my colleagues, you know, at all. Moving to a new city, you can’t meet up with people you meet at work, so you don’t necessarily have friends and, you know, all these things about, like, moving, I suppose not many people have moved in the last year but yeah it’s just -- I know no different I suppose. Hopefully it’s over, soon.

Transcript: OM talks about supporting colleagues caring for dying patients

O H - Supporting colleagues caring for dying patients

There was a routine where we would literally walk around the hospital all day, making sure people were okay, you know, going to every ward, whereas normally we wouldn’t do that, we would go where we were needed or go where the referrals were. We made a point of going to every single ward and actually, physically just saying, ‘Are you okay? Do you need help?’  You know, ‘You will have dying patients in this ward,’ you know, ‘we can see them, we’ll take some of that burden off you,’ you know. ‘Have you spoken to relatives? Do you know how to do this?’ because by this point everybody was doing it on sort of Facetime or phones, there was no visiting, there was no face-to-face. You know, clearly it was sort of, you know, a bit rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic at that point, but also it felt really important that that’s what we were doing, that was our role, making sure that people knew that it was perfectly acceptable to palliate people too, ‘cause I think some of the dangers through it, certainly after a month or two, was actually, ‘Oh no, you know, people shouldn’t die from this,’ and actually, it was like, when you look back, yes, people died before they maybe might have otherwise, but at the end of somebody’s life, you know, an overwhelming pneumonia is what kills people. My standard mantra is that most people are, over, not under-treated at the end of their lives, so once you are in hospital, it’s very difficult to take a step back and go: ‘We should stop’, you know, ‘We’re doing too many blood tests, too many things. We’re not improving this situation.’ But I think people were much more readily able to recognize when somebody was going to die, and I think that changed the culture a little bit, you know. If there’s one mild positive that comes out of this, it’s actually recognising that, you know, sick people in hospital do die, and hospitals are a place where people die, and will always be a place where people die. And there’s nothing wrong with that, you know, assuming no one’s made any mistakes, if someone’s coming to the end of their life, then good end of life care is an integral part of hospitals.

'The biggest impact for me has been the absolutely amazing ability of all the NHS staff to adapt. The amazing capacity of the junior doctors and nursing staff to care. Huge depths of genuine compassion and caring has overwhelmed me. The ability of junior doctors, very young men and women, in some cases, making huge and complex decisions and still being kind and compassionate.’

CD, genitourinary medicine consultant, north-east England and Yorkshire

Vaccination centre; resus team.


Firefighter helping at a vaccination centre

Firefighter helping at a vaccination centre, 2021

Donated by SH, firefighter, south-east England

The multidisciplinary teams fighting the pandemic within UK hospitals included public sector workers from outside the healthcare profession:

‘During a Fire Service career of almost 22 years, my period of redeployment to the NHS assisting with the vaccination effort is probably one of the proudest periods of my career. Seeing the hope in people, some having not left their homes for a year, is an experience I will always treasure.’

Resus (resuscitation) team during a COVID shift

Resus (resuscitation) team during a COVID shift, 29 April 2020

Donated by HT, acute medicine consultant, south-east England

HT, a consultant in a hospital in Kent, was part of a resuscitation team in the urgent and emergency care unit; the team also included a senior registrar, junior doctors and nurses. This photograph of the team was taken on 29 April 2020, during the first peak of the pandemic:

‘It captured the strong commitment of NHS ED [emergency department] services and undying spirit to serve country and NHS population. All with smiling face[s] without break were phenomenal during [a] most dreaded time. I hope that [it] reminds future generation[s of] a positive side of life.’

HT recalled how:

‘We developed a unique social media platform among our colleagues to start a support chat group specially for [those] sick and recovering from illness. Helping them during their most dreadful sickness where no one was even allowed to go near, keeping eyes on their daily needs and vigilance on their physical and emotional health was [the] most satisfying positive experience of the pandemic.’

‘In medicine we are comfortable with dealing with the unexpected, tackling challenges head on, and quickly, professionally and effectively working with new groups of colleagues. The entire Nightingale team was made of some of the strongest, brightest and most committed clinicians and support staff that I have seen, brought together so rapidly. All worked tirelessly, courteously and with conviction to be ready, no matter what. Some resided on site, not seeing their families for weeks.’

RL, respiratory consultant, London

Part of the exhibition Fortitude

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