“I became like family”: recovered nurse thanks Harefield Hospital for ‘incredible’ care during Covid-19

Maureen Clements was admitted to Harefield Hospital at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A senior nurse at Northwick Park Hospital, Maureen contracted Covid-19 and was admitted to the hospital with respiratory failure.

She later spent a month on Harefield Hospital’s Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU) and a further month on its wards, and has since spoken about her experience recovering from the virus and the care she received. 

“As a senior nurse I have been involved in delivering patient care for years as well as assessing nursing practice. I am absolutely blown away by the care I received and continue to get from Harefield Hospital. Incredible is the only word,” she said.

“The standard of care I received and standard of practice I witnessed was second to none. From the moment I woke up to the moment I left, it didn’t falter.”

Maureen was one of an unprecedented number of critically ill patients admitted to Northwick Park Hospital at the height of the pandemic who needed mechanical ventilation, which is provided to patients with acute respiratory failure when they are unable to breathe for themselves.

The hospital’s A&E department admitted one of the highest numbers of Coronavirus patients in the UK and, despite trebling ITU capacity was unable to manage the sheer volume of patients requiring ITU. Hospitals with available ITU bed capacity were able to help out via the North West London Critical Care Network, which co-ordinated transfers of critically ill patients between hospitals.

Via this network Maureen was transferred to Harefield Hospital on 10 April 2020 and admitted to its ITU. Harefield’s lead nurse and associate general manager, Peter Doyle, said: “When Maureen came to us she was seriously ill. She was ventilated and had very low oxygen levels.”

While in ITU Maureen’s condition worsened as she suffered kidney failure and did not respond to proning, a procedure where patients in intensive care are placed on their stomach to help treat acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Peter said: “There were a number of times when Maureen’s condition gave us real cause for concern, and on more than one occasion she deteriorated after showing signs of recovery. The fact that she didn’t initially respond to proning was also in itself a real cause for concern.

“We had a large number of Covid patients in ITU It really was a highly emotional and traumatic time for many of our staff, who had seen Northwick Park overwhelmed and were desperate to support them in any way possible.”

After a month in ITU with several close calls and further recovery on ‘step-down’ Covid wards, Maureen was discharged on 9 June 2020.

“It’s always an incredible moment to see someone who was so very ill recover and go home to their loved ones,” Peter said.

“So many of our staff got to know Maureen during her time with us and were involved in her care. I know that she has a story to tell about so many of our staff of all disciplines. The thing we’ll always remember about Maureen, and her husband Jay, is their great sense of humour at such a stressful time in their lives. I’m not sure whether she realises how much she helped our morale at a time when we were all feeling real pressure. It was an emotional and joyous day when she was discharged, and lots of staff gathered to clap her out of the hospital.”

Maureen’s husband, who had also contracted Covid-19 and was hospitalised at Northwick Park, was able to be present and helped clap her out of the hospital with cymbals.

Now continuing her recovery at home, Maureen has no memory of getting sick or the ordeal she went through in ITU.

Her first memory is of waking up in the CT scanner: “When I woke up I didn’t know anything about what had happened to me or where I was. Immediately the caring staff at Harefield put me at ease. I was made to feel like a guest of the hospital and there wasn’t anything they wouldn’t do for me. I became like family.

“It sounds strange to say it was a good experience being in hospital, but it really was. Of course it was challenging and frightening, but within the realms of that it really was such an enjoyable experience. All the teams that cared for me – the nurses, physiotherapists, psychologists and occupational therapists – treated me like I was someone very important.”

Recalling the extra lengths staff went to during her long stint in hospital, Maureen said: “I had only ever seen the staff who were taking care of me in full PPE, which can be really disorientating. One day, a group of nurses and physiotherapists got together and stood apart outside my window so they could take their masks off and I could see their faces. I won’t ever forget that.

After leaving hospital, Maureen continues to be cared for by teams at Harefield Hospital via the post-Covid-19 clinic. Like many Covid-19 survivors she continues to experience a number of long-term effects of the virus, including reduced mobility and use of her hands due to the length of time she spent on ITU.

The clinic, run by consultant in intensive care and respiratory medicine Dr Sundeep Kaul, is providing vital-follow up for the hospital’s discharged Covid-19 patients and patients from the local community. The clinic assesses patients for a whole host of issues ranging from shortness of breath to fatigue to joint problems and focuses on patients’ long-term recovery and rehabilitation.

Dr Kaul said: “Like many of our Covid-19 patients who spent a long time on ITU, Maureen has found her quality of life considerably impacted after recovering from the virus.

“Our specialists are working with her to assist her with rehabilitation and to address her specific health issues so she can get back to nursing and to all the other things she loves to do.”

Maureen said: “The clinic has been a fantastic experience and the help I continue to receive from Harefield is fantastic. The clinic is so well organised and a very thorough one-stop-shop, meaning I can get all my necessary checks and tests done in one day.

“Everything ran to time, I was so well looked after and I felt completely safe being onsite – it was superb.

Maureen continues to recover at home and is looking forward to returning to nursing at Northwick Park Hospital.