Thousands of doctors and nurses who had left the NHS are going back to care for patients with coronavirus. Some are coming out of retirement, but others are stopping their private work. We speak to three medics who are returning to the service, where they feel needed more than ever.
Physiotherapist Amanda Yardley left the NHS three years ago to work at a private clinic. A busy mother of two young girls, she had asked to reduce her hours but said her bosses refused.
“It was a very stressful period of my life, trying to juggle everything, as well as dealing with an injury to my hand from a car accident. It just wasn’t working with family life, it wasn’t flexible enough. Something needed to change so I decided to leave.”
However, as soon as coronavirus started to take hold in her community, she called her local hospital in Chelmsford to offer her services.
“I never imagined I would work for the NHS again. But I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do. I just felt like I had a duty to help,” she said.
The 34-year-old, who lives in Witham with her two daughters and her police officer husband Marc, has now been working three shifts a week at Broomfield Hospital.
She has been helping coronavirus patients strengthen their muscles, in the hope they will make a full recovery, and repositions them to optimise their lung function.
“Everyone is really pulling together. Deep down, I am scared I might catch it, but I’m trying not to think about it too much. This is what I trained to do. I don’t feel heroic, I’m just doing my job,” she said.
She hopes to return to the private clinic when the crisis is over, but said the experience has changed her outlook forever.
“It is very tough emotionally, knowing that some of my patients aren’t going to make it. You get to know them and you grow close. But I really want to support them and also my new colleagues, who don’t normally get enough credit for what they do.
“More than ever, I feel that the NHS is an amazing thing and I’m really proud to be playing my small part.”
Dr Bea Brookes left the NHS eleven years ago. She ran the Accident and Emergency department at Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford and loved the challenge but wanted to spend more time with her two children.
She set up a clinic offering cosmetic treatments and said she has really enjoyed building relationships with her clients.
“It’s a different type of fulfilment but I really love what I do,” she said.
When the coronavirus crisis unfolded, she closed her clinic and set about returning to the NHS, where she had previously worked for 21 years.
“My family were very against me going back, they were very worried about me, but they understand it is something I need to do.”
However, the process has not been easy and Dr Brookes has faced admin delays and difficulties with being approved to work.
“I applied through the NHS England route, but was told I would need to do several interviews and it was going to take weeks to be approved, so in the end I contacted my former hospital directly.
“The hospital has been great, everyone has been so welcoming, but it is frustrating because I have all these skills but I am still waiting for paperwork to come through, despite chasing it every day.
“So I can only go back and observe and help with admin at the moment. Hopefully that will change soon and I can be more hands on,” she said.
Dr Brookes has bought her own protective equipment, including scrubs and masks, because she did not want to take it away from the other staff already working there.
“I am going back purely in a voluntary capacity, and a lot of other private doctors I know are the same. It is not a case of wanting to be paid, even though our income has completely gone, we just genuinely want to be part of the effort.
“We have all these years of clinical experience and we want to use it to help alleviate some of the pressure on our former colleagues, who are having to work such long hours,” she said.
Julieann Pollitt has been a nurse for more than 25 years, most of it spent in critical care and risk management at various NHS hospitals in London.
Last year, she opened a clinic that specialises in cosmetic treatments and vitamin drips, in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex.
When the pandemic unfolded, the 49-year-old applied to return to the NHS.
Her application was fast-tracked and she received a personal phone call from Ruth May, the Chief Nursing Officer for England, asking her to join NHS Nightingale Hospital.
She is due to start at the hospital, at the ExCel conference centre in east London, in a critical care nursing role next week.
“I do realise it might be very stressful and I might see some really upsetting things but that is part of critical care, you work in the present and in the moment.
“If it comes to making decisions about who comes off a ventilator, that will be really tough. But I am very proud to be using my skills and I want to help in any way that I can,” she said.
Ms Pollitt has decided to live apart from her 17-year-old daughter, Isabella, to make sure she does not infect her.
“I’ve found it so hard the last few days, I’m really missing her, but ultimately I do not want to put her life at risk.
“Helping during this crisis is just something I need to do and I really feel like I can make a difference.”