Public appreciation for the NHS is welcome, but nurses need to know political leaders are doing all they can for their safety, writes Theresa Fyffe, director of Royal College of Nursing, Scotland

During the past few weeks I have been filled with often conflicting emotions as this pandemic has turned our lives upside down. I have been filled with pride at the stories of nursing staff across Scotland’s health and social care services pulling together to provide quality care.

I have shared the frustration at the lack of action on personal protective equipment and other essential resources to keep nursing staff and the public safe.

Every day nursing staff across Scotland’s health and social care services leave their own loved ones behind to face up to the challenge of caring for the loved ones of others. Each day is a journey into the unknown, with uncertainty about what lies ahead, and, as they return home, uniform in a bag, trepidation about the impact their job might have at home and what the next day will bring.

Nursing staff in our hospitals, communities and care homes are anxious and understandably so. They are thankful for the appreciation from the public each week, but they need to know that our political leaders are doing all they can to ensure their safety, providing them with resources they need to do their best.

Over the past month we have seen a continued focus on acute hospital capacity. On the increasing pressure, the need for beds, the devastating impact of this pandemic and of course the dedication, expertise and compassion of the staff in our acute services. The NHS Louisa Jordan hospital is ready and waiting should the need arise and critical care capacity across the country has been expanded significantly.

However, it is critical that we don’t consider hospitals in isolation. Our hospitals are part of the system – a system that would grind to a halt if it wasn’t for the primary and social care services that provide clinical care in our communities.

These services are crucial in reducing the number of people who need to be admitted to hospital and supporting people to return to their communities when hospital care is no longer needed. They too are on the frontline of this crisis and yet are often overlooked.

Nursing staff are continuing their work caring for some of our most vulnerable and supporting them with complex conditions, such as dementia, learning disabilities, mental health and physical disability. Our care home, district nursing and general practice nursing teams need to be protected and augmented if we are to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed.

In recent weeks the devastating impact of this virus on those living and working in Scotland’s care homes has come to light.

Before this crisis nurse staffing in community teams and care homes was already stretched. Now we are hearing reports of community staff being pulled in to support hospital teams, of understandably high levels of sickness absence and the need for some staff to self-isolate.

Government, health boards and health and social care partnerships are now recognising these pressures. They need to take action to find innovative solutions to staffing these essential services.

While student nurses and those who are returning to clinical practice may be part of this solution, the support needs of these individuals must be taken into account. At the Royal College of Nursing we are clear that Scotland’s student nurses are still students, they are on a paid clinical placement and must have clinical support and supervision.

Of course, staffing is not the only challenge. There are still significant concerns over supplies of personal protective equipment, access to testing, the resilience of our health and social care services and the long-term impact of this pandemic on our lives.

While for many of us conversations start to move towards considering what the new normal might look like, our nursing staff are very much focused on the here and now and continuing to deliver the best possible care in some of the most challenging circumstances.

The most difficult emotion I have experienced during the past few weeks has been sadness. I have shed tears at the tragic loss of life in our all communities and contemplated the loneliness and isolation felt by so many.

Spare a special thought for the family, friends and colleagues of the nursing and other health and care staff who have died while simply doing their jobs. I hope many, many people across the nation will join me in observing a minute’s silence at 11am on Tuesday for all the health, care and other key workers who have lost their lives to Covid-19.

They must be remembered.