A day in the life of a community Covid-19 swabber

Sally-Ann Belward, Physiotherapist

Sally-Ann is a Physiotherapist for Solent NHS Trust and works as the Clinical Lead for the Falls Prevention team; supporting people so that they can stay independent at home.

Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, Sally-Ann has volunteered as a community tester and to work at her local Acute Hospital taking swabs to test staff and their families for Coronavirus. The aim of this is to lower the risk of transmission within healthcare settings and to help staff stay in work. The testing is happening just outside of the hospital building, in a 'drive-through' set up, whilst the community testers are working out of a portacabin.

In this blog [written on 29th March 2020] Sally-Ann describes her typical day and shares some reflections on the impact Covid-19 has had on her and her colleagues:

Our first test is usually booked for 9am, so in order to be set up in time we have to collect the key to the portacabin and the list (if there is one) by 8.15am. The appointment slots for testing are co-ordinated by the Incident Control Centre (ICC). The ICC send messages to my work phone advising me who is being tested, when people are on their way in, their expected time of arrival, as well as some basic details about the person.

You need to have at least three hands sometimes

Normally we work in teams of two, but when children are being tested we work as group of three. When a child needs to be tested the Children's Hospital will send a paediatric nurse to take the swab; it often takes all three of us to get this done because the children aren't sat on the driver's knee! It means we have one "clean," one "dirty" and one "half clean" staff member, going back and forth to the clinical waste bin and portacabin.

We are so grateful it isn't raining

It's cold first thing in the morning and whilst the portacabin has a heater, we have the door open when working. In addition, when the sun comes out in the afternoon it gets very hot, especially in all of the plastic Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). When I took my gloves off at one point on Thursday the sweat literally poured out.

Wearing full PPE has its challenges! When I'm gloved my phone cannot recognise my fingerprint in order to read messages from the ICC, nor can I open my phone after a long day of PPE and hand washing (it doesn't recognise my mangled finger print!) The different types of PPE we've used has varied - we've had at least three types of visors, as well as two different types of gowns.

A porter brought us a good bag of sweeties on Friday afternoon! I haven't had a peanut butter cup before - yum!

The hospital staff know that we sometimes feel a bit out on a limb, so several are now asking us if we need any more supplies as they go past. The Infection Prevention Control team also know where we are and one of them pops down daily to check on us.

We keep asking for chairs to go in the portacabin. We are allocated toilet/coffee breaks, as well as a break for lunch, and the nearest toilets are by the dining room, as the Therapy outpatients is not open. Hot drinks are free in the dining room.

By the end of the long day Joan and I are so tired we have tripped out of the portacabin step and I can hardly bend my right leg enough to get in the car! My right hip is waking me at night, but I have managed to get some more Ibuprofen to keep me going.

We completed 22 tests on Friday, and now that it is official that we can test staff, I expect it to be even more full-on (labs said capacity is 30 tests per day). A lack of reagent [a substance/compound used during swab testing] has been an issue for the labs some days, but the number of tests has been steadily rising each day.

This experience feels very personal. I have tested family members of people that I know and work with - so far two physiotherapists and two consultants (with the staff I know in the car).

We are a day trip out for families in isolation, so need to maintain a cheery disposition, despite the fact that we are making them choke and weep.

I am exhausted by the end of the day, and arrive home (fortunately my lodger has moved out to be with her fiancé) so I can strip as soon as I come in, put everything in the washing machine, take a shower, then lie down!

We have a good system going, and the speed with which the 'patients' are turning up is full on at times, with cars queuing (we do usually have a person directing the cars).

All of the staff are desperate to return to work and help their - (sometimes beleaguered), colleagues. It is a privilege to be doing this work, and very humbling.