Mandy Blackman is an Advanced Clinical Practitioner and Emergency Department Nurse at Kettering General Hospital.
With 20 years-experience in the NHS, Mandy has responded with UK-Med and the UK Emergency Medical Team to Sierra Leone in 2015, Bangladesh in 2017 and Botswana in 2021.
As well as providing nursing care at the Ebola Treatment Centre in Kerry Town in Sierra Leone, I was involved in setting up a survivor’s clinic to ensure recovering patients had access to the correct diet, household goods and finances needed for them to access future treatment.
I listened to many people’s stories of hardship. Some of the Sierra Leonian support staff I was working with were themselves Ebola survivors which was very powerful. They helped me to understand the difficulties and challenges the patients I was dealing with were facing.
I learned a lot about myself in Sierra Leone. One of the newly qualified nurses I worked with and who I still keep in touch with, embodied the level of commitment, determination and care the Sierra Leonean staff showed to move their people forward.
In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, I supported national nurses during a Diphtheria outbreak, and in Botswana, I worked alongside senior Emergency Department nurses to help them write policy documents, stock check and manage their resources. Lack of finance and the borders being closed due to COVID meant they needed help thinking through the sustainable planning of resources for their department.
I worked with two shift coordinators, equivalent to our nursing sisters. These nurses were just as skilled as me. They knew what to do. A lot of it was about advocating for them, empowering them, boosting their confidence and resilience and reassuring them that they could do this.
As soon as I got back from Botswana, I received training to support the roll out of the Professional Nurse Advocacy (PNA) training, a national restorative supervision scheme introduced by Chief Nurse Ruth May in March 2021.
It built on everything I’d done in Botswana around mentoring and coaching. I am part of a team responsible for rolling the PNA out in our department and across the hospital. It’s like a road map that helps you support nurses to identify how they can get the best out of themselves, recognise burnout and prevent it.
It’s a really important piece of work which supports nurses individually and the hospital by helping to keep staff. Botswana was a great foundation for this work.
During COVID, I was seconded into the Emergency Planning Preparedness Resilience and Response team for my hospital.
My experience on international responses helped me with the planning of staff training, mask fitting, PPE, patient flow around the hospital but also planning for staff mindfulness and wellbeing as I knew we needed to be looking ahead for when the wave ended.
During COVID, the guidance was changing all the time, but the work and the experiences I have had on my deployments gave me confidence in working in an ever–changing environment. My outbreak experience meant I was able to support colleagues to understand the last–minute guidance changes were a good thing, it was because we’d learned something new.
COVID wasn’t going away, this was something we were going to have to learn to live with and adapt to, as we moved forward.
On responses, you rely on your clinical skills more because you may not have investigations to hand. Really listening and taking a thorough patient case history was vital which and has been a really useful skill to develop and use back home.
I think you gain confidence and flexibility. I’ve met lots of different people, expanded my network and learned a lot from them.
In Botswana, we were a mixed team – NHS and doctors and nurses from Nigeria and Kenya. We had different ways of teaching and mentoring. It was very positive. You may think you’ve explained something really well, but actually no one’s understood you. You just need to take a step back and go through it again.
In the UK, we have a novice to expert system. We were all novices with COVID. On response it’s like walking with people to support them to go from novice to expert with you.
“On responses, you rely on your clinical skills more because you may not have investigations to hand. Really listening and taking a thorough patient case history was vital which and has been a really useful skill to develop and use back home.”