Working in Diagnostic Radiography during the Coronavirus outbreak

Although the fight against COVID-19 may be easing, not everything can be put on hold.  There is still a need for care and treatments, and Diagnostic Radiographers are just one of many professions that have kept going through the crisis.  We spoke to Holly Pickford, a Birmingham City University alumna, about life within the Radiography Department at University Hospital Birmingham.

Before the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic and lockdown began, hospitals up and down the country were preparing for an influx of patients with the virus. Those of us in the Imaging department were no different. As a staff group, Diagnostic Radiographers are often overlooked in the hospital setting; yet without us many of the other health professions (doctors, nurses, physiotherapists etc.) would struggle to run their services.

During the last few weeks I have looked at more chest x-rays than I ever thought I would (and we take a lot of chest x-rays!). Diagnostic Radiographers have become an instrumental part of the process in determining if a patient has COVID-19, and how they are progressing and recovering from it. Most of this has been done by taking plain film x-rays, either in A&E or with portables on the wards and in Intensive Care Unit (ITU) . While I have never wanted to become a chest reporting radiographer, I can now identify COVID-19 on a chest x-ray with ease. 

A&E but not as we know it!

A&E seemed to change so suddenly; the normal flow of patients through this area (acute pain, trauma) changed almost exclusively to those with symptoms of the virus (cough, temperature, shortness of breath). Going to resuscitation became a new challenge, as you would never know how the patient was going to be or what their chest x-ray would look like. There were many occasions where we could hear the doctor advising a patient before we had even left the room to call their loved ones as they required ventilation and the specialist care of the ITU team.

Trips to ITU have become lengthy excursions; no longer is it as simple as entering the unit, identifying your patient and taking the x-ray. Now we have to enter through a one way system and begin the “donning” process (putting on our PPE: long sleeve gown, gloves, FFP3 mask and visor) before entering and taking the x-ray, then on the way out we have to go to the “doffing” area to remove our PPE safely (which is a blessing, those masks really dig into your face). The time it takes to perform the x-ray is longer; communication is made more difficult with PPE masks on (and I feel my colleagues have missed out on some of my witty remarks as a result). It can also be a daunting prospect to enter ITU in full PPE and my first trip there made me anxious (I nearly had a panic attack and refused to go in); however I persevered and have now been able to support other colleagues during their first visits. 

NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham

In order to manage the potential influx of COVID-19 patients, the NHS Nightingale Hospitals were set up. When they announced that the Birmingham Nightingale was looking for radiographers to provide imaging services onsite, I and several colleagues volunteered to assist. Within days we were on an induction at the site and undergoing applications training on the portable machines provided to us (by Samsung). This was an interesting time for us; I don’t think we had chance to be scared or worried about the unknown aspects of the situation. It was rewarding to know we might be able to help make a (small) difference during the crisis. Although NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham has yet to receive any patients, we are still on standby, if we should be needed.

A moment of reflection

The last few weeks have been the strangest and most difficult of my career. Never could we have anticipated a pandemic on this scale, with a disease that nobody had even heard of before the New Year. Never could we have predicted that the very ways in which we work would need to change so dramatically. Never could we have imagined the emotional toll it has taken on us. I have seen so many selfless acts of care and heard so many heart-warming and heart-breaking stories from colleagues during this crisis. As new cases are declining, there are still challenges ahead of us; how do we navigate this strange new world we find ourselves in? What is the future for healthcare and the education of our future health care professionals?

Despite the many unknowns, the virus has shown us that we can pull together and make a difference.  Whether that is as health care professionals or as individuals, the expression of warmth and kindness is something to be really proud of.

Are you inspired to start a career in healthcare?

There are a range of rewarding careers within the health sector, and from August 2020 you could get £5000 a year to train (depending on which degree you choose).

Find out more about funding