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The University of Southampton
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

Ship Science student Mary volunteers on the frontline to help treat patients with coronavirus

Published: 20 May 2020
Mary Strutt

Mary Strutt is a final year MEng Ship Science student at the University of Southampton. She is also President of both the Civil, Maritime and Environmental Engineering Department and the Maritime Society. In her free time, she is heavily involved in the University’s First Aid Society, which is partnered with St John Ambulance as a student volunteering unit. This allows her to be an active volunteer with the health and first aid charity and Mary can often be seen providing first aid cover at public events, such as football matches at St Marys Stadium, University sporting events and larger national events like Brighton Pride and Nottinghill Carnival.

However, since the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus in the UK, St John Ambulance has backed up the NHS by providing ambulance crews, plus trained volunteers, like Mary, to work in hospitals up and down the country.

So far, over 2,500 St John volunteers have received additional training to prepare them for new roles requiring different skills, and like hundreds of other volunteers, Mary signed up to help the NHS in any way she could. As a result, she was deployed to the NHS Nightingale hospital at London’s ExCel Centre. She arrived on the 30 March to complete two days of essential training which covered everything from hospital care such as feeding and washing patients to how to wear the PPE.

Mary spent the whole of April at NHS Nightingale, initially providing first aid cover to the contractors and staff on site and then helping the medical staff on the wards as a clinical support worker. She was based in the step-down area, helping to look after patients who had just come off ventilators and it was usual that Mary’s shifts were mainly nights but with a few earlies thrown in. For volunteers, the 24-hour period was split into three shifts of 10 hours so there would be sufficient time for handovers and donning the PPE.

Understandably, Mary was a little apprehensive about helping out on the wards having never worked in a hospital environment before and knowing the patients would be very unwell. However, the induction session from the NHS that followed the St John training calmed her nerves and helped prepare her for her role which included watching the patient(s), helping to move them into a more comfortable position in bed, taking basic observations and, more importantly, talking to them.

It was a lot to take in when she first entered the ward: there was constant beeping from the machines, the PPE was strange to wear, and the patients were very unwell. Whilst she was prepared, it was nothing like she had imagined but due to the extensive training received, Mary quickly found her feet doing hourly observations and re-stocking and organising the equipment trollies. All the staff on the wards looked the same and she quickly realised she had no idea who anyone was until they were out of their PPE on breaks. There was an extensive variety of skill sets on the ward with doctors and nurses having a whole range of backgrounds including Radiographers, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists and Speech and Language Therapists.


Mary Strutt

Mary said “All the staff were absolutely lovely and prepared to answer any and all of my questions - I was so lucky that they were all more than happy to show me what they were doing and teach me about anything I took an interest in. I am so unbelievably thankful for all of their support and help”.

On the wards, Mary enjoyed talking to the patients in the step-down area and making them smile. Each patient had an information sheet telling us about them, their families, and their lives. Notes and messages from their families would be passed on, sometimes via phone, and then attached to their observation boards. This was a very emotional part of Mary’s role.

Mary said “Everyone is calling me brave, but I really don’t think I am. I am privileged to have had the skills and the opportunity to help, and I am proud to have done so. But I certainly  wouldn’t call myself brave - I was just doing my bit. That being said, the messages of support I received really meant a lot. When I was tired, my feet hurt and my face was covered in lines from the masks, seeing the main corridor decorated with pictures and letters from children really made me smile.”

“The whole experience has taught me a lot and has really changed my perspective on life. Whilst before this experience I was questioning if I would retrain as a healthcare professional, I am now certain that this is what I want to do. I am so thankful that Nightingale London never reached its full capacity and has now been stepped down. Hopefully, it means we are through the worst of it. Whilst I am in no hurry to return, if I were needed, I would go back in a heartbeat – and I know countless others who would too.

My message to all of you is: Thank you - thank you for your support and thank you for following guidelines on social distancing. Keep it up!”

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