One of the country’s leading speech and language therapists, who works for Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, has been called upon to spearhead the rehabilitation of patients recovering from coronavirus at London’s new Nightingale Hospital.
Dr Jackie McRae, Director of Research and Enterprise for the School of Allied Health, Midwifery and Social Care in the joint Kingston and St George’s Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education, has begun work as clinical lead speech and language therapist at the temporary care facility, designed to increase capacity of hospital beds during the COVID-19 pandemic
Dr McRae, who has worked in the speech and language therapy field for the NHS for more than 25 years, has taken the secondment role to help patients recover normal everyday functions such as talking, eating and drinking – which can be particularly affected due to the nature of the virus.
“Part of the pattern with COVID-19 we’re learning is the extreme coughing and breathing dysfunction people are suffering from is affecting the functions of the larynx and this means simple functions we take for granted are proving challenging for those who have contracted this disease,” said Dr McRae.
Recognising her excellence and vast experience in her field, Health Education England reached out to Dr McRae to help with the rehabilitation phase of COVID-19 alongside allied health professional chief Rachael Moses and other skilled professionals including dieticians, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and radiographers. This ensures every aspect of a patient’s recovery is met with the highest level of care. “It’s a multi-disciplinary approach. We use communication charts and have specialist, modified food, which is all part of us easing patients back into eating, drinking and normally before they return home,” Dr McRae said.
The Nightingale Hospital in London’s ExCel Centre is one of seven satellite critical care facilities across the UK and Dr McRae, who is on a number of expert panels with professional body The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, revealed she has been linking up with her counterparts in the other Nightingale locations to share experiences and ideas.
“This is a new virus so I think we were all a bit anxious as we didn’t know what to expect and couldn’t use all of our usual interventions. Being able to talk to the clinical leads in the other hospitals has helped us all tremendously – it’s brought together the largest number of clinicians working collaboratively, more than you could ever imagine,” she said
In her role she has also been given the opportunity to be involved in collecting data on the interventions and their outcomes for COVID-19 patients and has been linking up with international experts to gain consensus on what interventions work best.
In preparation for the first patients to transfer from the intensive care unit to the step down ward, where rehabilitation can begin, Dr McRae has recruited and trained some of her new team, ensuring they have all the correct tools, equipment and food, creating educational material, picking up any issues with systems and processes, and looking out for any issues around patient wellbeing. She has also been consulting on the intensive care unit to ensure sedated patients get a high level of mouth care to preserve the lips and the tongue from damage due to tubing.
Dr McRae, along with all staff working at the Nightingale Hospital, adheres to Government instructions by practising social distancing and wearing personal protective equipment and said the whole workforce feels like a family – which is especially important when many of them are staying in hotels, away from their own families.
“I’m staying in on-site accommodation and there’s a really big focus on the wellbeing of the staff. Everything is provided for us, including food and drink, and it really helps us all pull together in this unfamiliar environment as everyone’s goal is to help save lives and get the patients back to their families as soon as possible,” she said.
Dr McRae isn’t the only Kingston and St George’s representative at the Nightingale Hospital as joining her are colleagues Dr Pete Beaumont, an intensive care specialist, and Andy O’Neill, a simulation suite technician. Dr Beaumont and Mr O’Neill work in the faculty’s paramedic science department and helped to set up the care facility in the lead up to its opening earlier this month.
Head of the School of Allied Health, Midwifery and Social Care at Kingston and St George’s, Professor Iain Beith, expressed his pride at three faculty staff members being called upon to help the national effort against coronavirus. . “These appointments demonstrate the importance of academic input in creating an innovative and impressive undertaking as the Nightingale Hospital, and in providing high quality care to save lives and ensure those who do pull through get the rehabilitation they deserve to minimise the effect on the rest of their lives,” Professor Beith said.