IT HAS been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. To date the death toll globally exceeds 2.3 million, with more than 108 million confirmed cases.
Student nurses and midwives at the University of South Wales (USW) have continued their studies throughout this time, with many working on the front line, caring for those individuals and families affected.
Since the approval early last December of the first vaccines to prevent and minimise the impact of COVID-19, a comprehensive UK-wide national strategy to roll out the vaccines has begun.
USW partner health & care organisations are integral to this roll out and have provided a unique placement learning opportunity for nursing students.
Among them is Abi Ormrod, a 33-year-old mum-of-two from Newport, who’s a second-year Adult Nursing student at USW.
Whilst on placement with Aneurin Bevan University Health Board (ABUHB), Abi received focused training to ensure she could develop the knowledge, skills and understanding to support, under supervision, the vaccine roll-out across Gwent.
“We initially had to do a week of intense online training to understand about the different vaccines, how they work, and how they are administered,” she said.
“Then we had to do training at the mass vaccination centre at Cwmbran Stadium. That was to see how it all works, to understand the process behind it, make sure the training was up to date, and was adequate enough for what was needed.”
Although having received training in giving the vaccines, the student nurses were still getting close guidance and supervision. This has included working with a range of highly experienced nurses and senior members of the health board’s nursing team.
“We have been able to administer the vaccines ourselves as long as we had a registrant supervising us” Abi explained.
“As part of experienced community vaccination teams, we have also been going out to other hospitals to vaccinate patients – the Royal Gwent and St Woolos in Newport, and The Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran – which has meant further valuable experience for us.”
Normally students would not be able administer vaccines as they fall within a legal framework that prevents them from actively participating. However, the scale of the pandemic and the logistical challenge in delivering the vaccination programme resulted in a new legal framework called a National Protocol.
This meant that non-registered staff could be involved if trained in accordance with national standards and supervised by a registrant. This formed the basis of the unique placement for USW students within AB UHB.
Linda Jones, Professional Lead Nurse for Education Development Regulation at ABUHB, said: “The Covid-19 Pandemic has resulted in the biggest vaccination programme we’ve seen in our lifetime.
“This has, of course, brought about many challenges. However, it has also offered many opportunities that wouldn’t usually arise. Because of this, we are delighted to be piloting a new placement at our Vaccination Centres for student nurses in our Health Board area.
“This new placement offers a completely unique opportunity for our nursing students, where they will gain a wealth of experience and knowledge before they qualify.”
Abi added that it’s been a brilliant experience as a second-year student.
“We wouldn’t normally be able to do. It’s been really good to see how the vaccination programme works,” she said.
“To have the opportunity to do it has just been amazing. Everyone’s worked so well together, it’s been so well organised.”
While having the additional clinical experience, Abi has also benefited from building on her relationships with patients, many of whom needed extra support after almost a year of unprecedented challenges.
“We can see the relief the patients feel when they know they’re going to have a vaccine,” Abi said.
~Also, being able to give them support and advice on staying healthy - maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing hands – and what the possible side effect could be, such as a headache or raised temperature, a lot of it all comes together to reassure them and make them feel better about things.
“People seem reassured seeing us in our unforms, and knowing we’ve got the information and can give them answers to their questions.”
Dr Ian Mathieson Head of School of Care Sciences at USW added: “The focus of Welsh and UK wide health care strategies is on keeping the population well and promoting health and wellbeing.
“Our students having been at the very forefront of the response to the pandemic often in really challenging situations so it has been it has been really important for students to be involved in supporting the vaccination programme, keep our local communities well in order to beat this dreadful virus.
“There is clear light at the end of the tunnel and our students are continuing to play a key role as they progress with their studies. The success of this placement is testament to the excellent collaboration relationship between USW and Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and I thank all those involved in supporting this learning opportunity.”