Sinead Hanton

Picture: Label1

Intensive care unit matron

Sinead’s role as matron, a position originally created to police the prevention and control of infection in hospitals, has been pivotal in helping to manage the treatment of patients with COVID-19. Running a busy ITU, Sinead is one of the people at the epicentre of the Royal Free London’s response to the pandemic. “Every time I hear or see the clapping each, it makes me very, very emotional,” she says.

“We feel like we’re going to war, and every day I arrive at work I pray for strength to help me get through another day."

"On Thursday evenings I’m still at work. We gather on the fourth floor, open the window and listen to the clapping. It’s very emotional. There’s not a dry eye in the house. When I look back on this moment and realise how many new things we’ve had to learn very quickly, and how we’ve got stuck in together, it’s been remarkable.”

The trust has made considerable effort to strengthen the resources available to help the hospitals respond to the pandemic, including redeploying surgeons and bringing junior doctors to the front line of patient treatment. “We started talking to surgeons and anaesthetists, dealing with them on a very human level. Intensive care is usually isolated from the outside world, but here we are working and coming together as a team. People now realise how busy intensive care is, and how hard we work to keep our patients safe.” Sinead goes on to say she does think the altered hospital structure will be long-lasting. “After this, I think the teamwork is going to change.”

She hasn’t felt the cameras have been intrusive, however. “I am quite a shy person, but television does give an insight into how we work. It’s an excellent platform to show people what goes on, how patients are looked after on a 24-hour basis, that someone is with them all the time.”

What the films will show is the ICU ward almost doubling in size from 38 to 69 beds, and even with redeployment of staff the pressure is clearly very real. “In intensive care we typically give one-on-one nursing. We are now obliged to have a ratio of one nurse to three patients, but with extra nursing support. There is still someone with them at all times. When patients are so sick that their relatives can’t be there, that is very tough. But even when people are dying, we reassure the patient’s relations that we are there. Always.”

“Once this programme has aired, I think it will show people how important it is to distance themselves. It’s really stressful for the staff and upsetting to see what is happening to our patients. It’s really important to get the message out. I knew we would have a spike a couple of weeks after Easter, because we knew that people were going out socialising and having parties. And that is exactly what happened. People don’t see, they don’t understand the impact to the hospitals on staff and patients.”

Sinead finally reflects on how she’s coping through the pandemic. “I have a debrief with the other matrons and senior staff members at the end of each day. We talk about what went well or what didn’t. We often have a little cry. Then I go home. I try to keep my distance from my son, who is four. I stay in another room from him, and I miss him. But I unwind at home.”