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Nurses get an OBE but can they get some PPE

"Staff were telling us nightmare scenarios" says nurse who receives OBE

16 October, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Felicia Kwaku with colleagues

A frontline nurse recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list with an OBE has outlined the stress of trying to help Covid-19 patients without proper protective equipment.

Felicia Kwaku, who lives in Islington, has called for more stringent safety measures in the second wave of the coronavirus and warned a disproportionate effect of the disease on black and minority ethnic (BAME) NHS staff must be taken seriously.

She is one of a number of nursing and medical staff to be honoured for their part in the Covid response.

Ms Kwaku, who lost her uncle and a colleague to the coronavirus, was working on the frontline throughout the pandemic as the associate director of nursing at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust across South East London and Kent.

She is also interim chair of the chief nursing officer’s black minority ethnic strategic advisory group for NHS England, advising how to improve the service for BAME staff.

Ms Kwaku said: “PPE [personal protective equip­ment] needs to be fit for design and purpose. We have got to learn from the lessons of the first wave. Black, Asian and Filipino nurses were dying at a higher rate than their white colleagues.

“The staff were telling us nightmare scenarios. We were trying to get positive accounts of what was happening but positive accounts weren’t coming through.”

She added: “What they told us was they didn’t have enough PPE. Managers were asking staff to care for patients without PPE. Staff were feeling pressurised, scared and discriminated against.

“Special filtered masks were designed for white male nurses and didn’t fit properly on the faces of Filipino nurses. They failed a proper-fit test and yet they were expected to go into Covid areas.”

Ms Kwaku said she was “gobsmacked” when she found out about the OBE, saying: “I just want to dedicate it to the nurse and midwifery profession. Being a black nurse, we don’t get those opportunities afforded to us.

“I really hope it is an example of what we can do and achieve. It’s a battle for equality and diversity.”

Ms Kwaku trained in nursing at UCLH and qualified in 1993. She joined King’s College in 2017, and has lived in Islington since 2003.

She said: “We had to prepare ourselves for the high death rate. You are sort of familiar with people dying but the high death rate traumatised a lot of staff.

“If you are working in a Covid ward you are scared. It was difficult.”

Meanwhile, Jessica Horne has been awarded an OBE for her services as clinical lead of respiratory physiotherapy at the Whittington Hospital.

Jessica Horne

Ms Horne, whose son was born in the Whittington 11 years ago, said: “I am really grateful and really overwhelmed. I feel like I am representing the Whittington, not only representing myself.

“Although we knew Covid was coming, we didn’t know how bad it was going to be. Lots of senior leaders were off sick. I could see so many other senior leaders just getting on with things and being hands-on – I knew that’s what I had to do too.

“It’s the ethos of the Whittington. We worked so hard and we got through something we thought we would never have to go through.

“We were living, breathing and eating Covid. It’s not like you have a hard day at work then go home and switch off. There was nothing to do at home so we were constantly talking about Covid 24/7. But the Whittington was also a place I could go to and make a difference.

“My team were amazing to work with and that made it so much easier.”

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