1 of The Million – Fighting COVID-19

The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has meant that a lot of NHS staff have had to change the way they work, and I’m no exception.


Victoria Heath, Healthcare Scientist

I’m a healthcare scientist specialising in immunology and virology and this has meant that I’ve been redeployed to an area where I can be more help fighting the pandemic.

My normal role is as the quality lead for physiological sciences, which means that I work with healthcare scientists in areas such as audiology and cardiac physiology and support them to find ways in which they can improve their service to continuously provide top quality patient care.

At the moment, virology laboratories are receiving very large numbers of requests and it’s just not possible for them to process them all. At my Trust, I am working with the molecular pathology laboratory to set up an NHS staff screening service which takes some of the pressure off the virology department and allows frontline NHS staff to return to work more quickly.

My role is to work with local universities to recruit and train volunteers that can come to NHS laboratories and help the healthcare scientists use a technique called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to look for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 coronavirus disease, in nose and throat swabs from NHS staff showing symptoms.

The last time I worked on an outbreak was back in 2015 when I was deployed to an Ebola Treatment Centre in Sierra Leone. In those days my role was to work alongside scientists from Denmark and the UK carrying out the PCR testing on samples from patients and people in the community. Towards the end of the outbreak, I also helped train scientists from local hospitals to carry out PCR so that they could respond to any future outbreaks.

When I first began to help recruit volunteers I felt as if I wasn’t necessarily helping as much as I could. It almost felt wrong to be sitting in an office with spreadsheets and paperwork when I could be in a lab and helping to test. Since then I have realised that by completing forms, compiling rotas, liaising with HR and organising training (just to mention a few of my jobs) means that I have taken work from healthcare scientists in the laboratory leaving them with more time to focus on the testing.

It has been a lot to deal with emotionally, almost everyone I meet is anxious and many of my colleagues have said they struggle to unwind and sleep at night, but this outbreak has also shown me how well we respond as a workforce. Everyone is working hard for the benefit of patients, and taking time to look out for each other. One of my team mates left fruit on my desk last week, and there are healthcare scientists across the country sending messages to check in on other scientists in their network. These are unprecedented times, but I am really proud to see healthcare scientists demonstrating their care and compassion. It gives us hope for the future.


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