Posted Friday 18 December 2020
As people across the United Kingdom celebrate Christmas day with their friends and families, nurses are used to not being able to join in the festivities at home and instead looking after, and caring for, patients on wards up and down the country.
Senior lecturer in simulated nursing and clinical skills at Kingston University's School of Nursing Sally Aucken, who has spent many a Christmas on a critical care ward, explains how healthcare workers try to bring a holiday cheer to patients and why the coronavirus pandemic will make things look very different this year.
Walking into the ward on Christmas day the night staff call out Merry Christmas to those coming in, the tree is decorated, robins and snowmen adorn the nurses socks and the Charge Nurse delivers the shift handover wearing reindeer antlers.
Patients receive the same level of care as any other day, recording observations, washing and dressing, help with feeding, ward rounds and medication administration, listening and supporting patients as the day and care continues. Emergencies are still admitted, and others will be receiving end of life care. Patients remaining in hospital over the Christmas period tend to be those who are sicker or are waiting for a suitable place to be discharged to. Life in the hospital ward carries on as if it were any other day.
Christmas Day brings a few highlights and surprises, Father Christmas visits Paediatric wards, nurses with elf hats deliver Christmas dinners and talented musicians from all departments of the hospital serenade staff and patients with carols and songs. Wards try to give out presents to make a stay in hospital more pleasant – toiletries or soft fleece blankets for ill adults are well received. Crackers adorn meal trays and younger visitors are given chocolate by the nurses in charge. While many patients are able to have a traditional Christmas dinner, nurses often bring in food to share with their colleagues to support and celebrate with each other.
The day is usually interspersed with a steady stream of visitors bearing gifts and greetings for their friends and relatives, often with chocolates for the nurses that are gratefully accepted and shared with both day and night shifts. While nobody likes to be in hospital over Christmas it is important to acknowledge the day and to support patients and their families.
This year will be a different Christmas for both staff and patients. Decorations have to be modified, needing to be simple and wipeable. Trees are in open areas such as atriums, not on the wards and there is less tinsel on the trees this year. Visitors will still be restricted due to the pandemic and the gifts from the wards may be the only present for some. Nobody likes to be away from family so video calls, email messages and pictures sent from home have become routine in hospitals over recent months, with nurses and other healthcare workers holding the hands of their patients instead of the family. These will be even more important over the Christmas period.
At the end of the day nurses will handover to the night staff with the same jovial wishes that greeted them in the morning, the antlers are donned for handover again, and the day staff go home to family and friends who have missed spending Christmas with them too.
Nurses are resilient and resourceful in caring for their patients and this has never been more true than in 2020. Even when bruised by PPE and exhausted, they meet the challenge to support patients, their families, and students. As our students graduate and take up roles in the nursing workforce, they know they will work many a Christmas Day supported by colleagues. So, take some time to think of all those working in hospital over the festive period.