Working in disaster zones helped Leighton Buzzard nurse in battle against Covid

Harriet learned skills to help colleagues

Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 3:13 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th October 2021, 3:00 pm

A Leighton Buzzard nurse has found dealing with deadly diseases in West Africa, Bangladesh and Cambodia has helped her fight Covid-19 back home.

Harriet Walton has fought Ebola, diphtheria and Covid-19 in Cambodia and Lebanon before returning home during the pandemic.

And she has managed to use her skills, gained while working with the emergency health charity UK-Med to support colleagues not used to working with infectious diseases.

Harriet on a training exercise (photo: A Daniel)

Harriet, an accident and emergency nurse at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH), spent four months working with the charity.

She said: “Having worked in an Ebola Treatment Centre in Sierra Leone I’d received multiple trainings in how to use PPE, so I never felt anxious about treating a Covid patient. People were very worried about how to protect themselves. I was able to support my colleagues who hadn’t worked with such an infectious disease before. I knew that if we could keep ourselves safe, we could keep our patients safe.

“Nursing is about adaptability. You have to nurse every patient in a different way. Working in different cultures, with different languages teaches you how to adapt to deliver the best care you can for that patient. I think with Covid and people not being able to see their relatives, I really drew from my experience to make sure I was keeping patients calm and informed about what was going on and little things like showing them my face from the other side of the glass when I could - so they knew I was a person underneath all that PPE.”

Harriet, who worked in a specialist infectious disease hospital says her experience has been invaluable, enabling her to treat and assess diseases many people in the UK haven’t seen.

She recalls: “There was a patient who came into our department after I’d got back from Bangladesh with a letter from the doctor to say he had suspected diphtheria. I was able to say: ‘Don’t worry. I’ve done this already. And I knew how to approach the situation.”

Harriet has spent four months with charity UK-Med and as part of the government’s UK Emergency Medical Team in Sierra Leone, Cox’s Bazar - Bangladesh, Cambodia and in Lebanon, following the devastating blast at Beirut Port in August 2021, which killed hundreds and unleashed a deadly Covid-19 wave.

Her comments come as a new report is released by frontline medical aid charity UK-Med, which highlights how doctors and nurses who’ve returned from disaster zones bring vital skills and experience back to the NHS.

UK-Med is a Manchester-based frontline medical aid charity with 30 years’ experience responding to health emergencies around the world. It is a partner in the UK Emergency Medical Team (UK EMT) – the government’s front-line response to a humanitarian crisis overseas.