The past year has been considerably challenging for the NHS.

As many of us have stayed home to stay safe, frontline workers have gone out everyday since the start of the pandemic to help keep us safe.

And for some, 2020 was meant to be the year they retired.

But retired nurses in Coventry have been returning to the frontline, some after just a month of retirement, to help ease the burden on local hospitals.

CoventryLive spoke to two nurses that have come out of retirement to help the national coronavirus effort, showing that nursing is truly a vocation.

Speaking to us over Zoom after a busy shift, recently retired nurses Patricia Marson and Lesley Hugill described their experiences of working at the vaccination clinic at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire.

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“I thought long and hard about retiring and even towards the end of the year we were all cautiously optimistic we would have a better 2021, but it became apparent quite quickly that we were going into 2021 facing a lot of challenges,” Patricia Marson told us.

Patricia retired on December 1 2020 after working in the NHS for 42 years, with her most recent role running rehabilitation clinics out in the community.

Lesley retired on December 31 2020 after working in the NHS for 43 years as an advanced clinical practitioner in trauma and orthopaedics at UHCW.

She returned just eight days later to work at the hospital’s vaccination clinic.

So why did they decide to come back? For Patricia, it was seeing her former colleagues being redeployed to other areas of the hospital, and wanting to step in and help.

Patricia Marson retired on December 1 2020 after working in the NHS for 42 years, with her most recent role running rehabilitation clinics out in the community.

“I was still very close to them and I thought it was an opportunity to do something positive, I thought to myself, ‘you can still do something’,” she said.

She added: “When they were being redeployed to other areas, we kept in touch, and when I saw the opportunity to go for the vaccination clinics I thought I could do my bit as well.

“I thought I could contribute to this, and to keep the work force going and get the whole community out of the pandemic, so I saw that as an opportunity and it has been a really positive experience.”

Lesley echoed this, saying: “I almost felt as if I was deserting the NHS in their time of need.

“I can do [vaccination clinics] in my own time I can choose when I do it but at least I’m offering something in the way of getting us out of the pandemic.

“We’ve had loads of staff vaccinated which is brilliant, I think we’re going to be needed for some time but it’s just a way of giving back.”

Watch: Clap for Carers at UHCW

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Both Patricia and Lesley are seasoned healthcare workers with a cumulative 85 years of experience between them, but what was it like returning to the coalface?

Patricia joked: “It was hard work I think after my first shift I nearly died and I’m not joking my legs were like jelly! We were so busy, it’s make or break!”

Lesley Hugill retired on December 31 2020 after working in the NHS for 43 years as an advanced clinical practitioner in trauma and orthopaedics at UHCW.

‘My last year of nursing has just been so challenging’

Both Patricia and Lesley worked at the hospital at the height of the pandemic, and were redeployed to work on the wards.

Lesley said: “Initially we were a little bit shell shocked, one day I was working in clinics doing the job I was doing for 11 years and the next day I was on the wards.

“I hadn’t worked on the wards for 30 years, to then go onto the ward , that was quite daunting.

“I thought once I retired that would be it!”

Recently retired nurses Lesley Hugill (left) and Patricia Marson (right) described their experiences of returning to work on the frontline. They have been working at the vaccination clinic at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire since January.

Similarly Patricia was redeployed to the cardiology assessment ward where she ended up doing her first night shift in 30 years.

She said: “It was quite enlightening about how we came together to support other teams, that camaraderie you get, it was really great team spirit especially the first lockdown. I think we got a bit more accustomed to working more flexibly as wherever the need arose.”

She added: “It was a bit scary for the public, I think a lot of people had a lot of fear of coming into the hospital and acquiring illness by coming out the house, but we tried to make it a positive experience for everybody, and being able to support each other.”

Lesley added: “My last year of nursing has just been so challenging I didn’t want to be seen to be doing nothing when I finished when there’s so much to do.”

Nursing over the years

And how has nursing changed over the years? Patricia answered: “Nursing has transformed over the forty years. From being seen as a doctor’s handmaid to nurses really coming into their own, and having a whole raft of opportunity to have different roles and work in different settings.

“The patients don’t change, the essence of it hasn’t really changed, it’s just the scale.”

Take a look through our nostalgic gallery of healthcare in Coventry:

Lesley agreed, explaining how nurses are now much more at the forefront of the delivery of care.

She said: “When I started as a nurse we were quite limited to what we could do.

“Now you’re in so many clinically challenging procedures and clinics and where we see our own patient group.

“Before you were ward nurses and that was it which was still nice, but now there are a lot more openings now, you can go to university or do a master’s degree.”

They described the melting pot of workers that have returned to “muck in” at the hospital’s vaccination clinics.

“It’s been fantastic working in the vaccination clinics, we have former dietitians, health care workers, nurses, doctors, it really is a friendly professional set up,” Lesley said.

The pair are prepared to put their retirement plans on hold for as long as it takes to get Coventry out of the pandemic.

Patricia reflected: “I don’t mind what setting I’m working in as long as I’m contributing to this mass vaccination and getting the NHS functioning again.

“I don’t mind committing the next year or two to helping with the backlog of work.”

Lesley added: “The main thing is the more people we can get vaccinated and the quicker we can do it the closer we are to being able to do those things like holidays, socialising, hugging the people we want to hug.

“At least we feel as if we are doing something towards that.”

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