Forget MS, it’s missing patients and her team that hurts most for district nurse Sally

Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis never held back Sally Phillips in her career as a nurse, until Covid hit.

Forget MS, it’s missing patients and her team that hurts most for district nurse Sally

Describing herself as inherently stubborn, Sally’s wouldn’t let her chronic condition impact her full and rewarding career at Oxford Health, serving on the NHS front line as a district nurse and caring for patients with wide-ranging needs across the south west of Oxfordshire.

But her MS meant that when the Coronavirus pandemic hit, the 31-year-old was immediately flagged as vulnerable because of the immuno-suppressing drugs she takes to control her condition.

For the past four months Sally has been redeployed from her Abingdon-based team, still working within district nursing, but this time she’s one of three triage nurses.

They are shielded, work from home and are the first point of contact for hundreds of calls and emails a week from patients, families, carers, GPs and other health professionals.

Among a multitude of tasks Sally tackles, she ensures those who need care most urgently receive it; she can be the compassionate and reassuring voice for relatives coping with the last days of a loved one, but she also deals with complaints.

It’s a very different role to the one she has loved for the past six years and Sally is first to admit this switch has been one of the toughest challenges she has ever faced.

“It’s been hugely emotional and stressful and by no means an easy transition, as I’m sure is true for everyone. Working in a new role with different protocols, procedures and utilising my clinical knowledge in a different way, has been really hard.

“I would love nothing more than to be side by side with my colleagues and friends, as they take on one of the biggest challenges the NHS has seen in recent years.

“The feelings of letting them down and the guilt that they are out there, putting themselves at risk have been quite overwhelming.  It can also really feel quite isolating at times.

“It is also another constant reminder of the disease that I have and that I am classed as more ‘vulnerable’. I miss being clinical, I miss my patients and my team. I miss our infamous shared lunches and being able to give my colleagues a hug when they are upset.”

Sally's cat Bettie

Bettie, Sally’s helpful feline assistant

However, ever cheerful Sally is able to look on the brighter side.

“For the first time in my career, I can wear my engagement ring to work,“ she laughs. “I am also able to be at the beck and call of my four cats, which they find very much to their liking.  The traffic from my kitchen to my conservatory is minimal, and I even get more lie-ins in the mornings.

She is trying to come to terms with “not knowing when any of this is going to end – a feeling that I’m sure resonates with us all.

“But I am lucky, and I need to remember that. I can only imagine what my team, NHS colleagues and our bigger NHS family have gone through during this – enduring entire shifts in stifling PPE, being redeployed, being away from families for weeks or months at a time to keep them safe, and tragically, some of our NHS colleagues have paid the ultimate price. May they rest in peace.”

She added: “I think when I can finally return to clinical work, I will appreciate being able to be around my colleagues/friends and treat patients again – it’s strange that this is something I took for granted. But I must keep reminding myself that I am fortunate. And, as with all things, this too shall pass.”

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Published: 29 July 2020