Life on the Frontline - AECC University College Lecturer, Dr. Fiona Mellor

We are especially proud of AECC University College’s Medical Imaging staff who have offered their services to the NHS at this time. Not only are they working all hours at hospitals across the country, they are continuing to support our students whilst campus is closed and teaching continues online.

Lecturer and Superintendent Radiographer, Dr. Fiona Mellor is currently working at Poole Hospital at weekends. She discusses the part radiography has to play in the fight against Covid-19.

 “Radiography, specifically ‘plain film’ and CT have been at the frontline of care for Covid patients. Since 16 March I have worked every weekend in CT at Poole hospital.”

Infection control

“We separated our scanners into ‘green’, which meant that we scanned patients who were not thought to be infectious, and ‘purple’, for infectious patients. We wear standard PPE for all patients; surgical mask, gloves, goggles and a plastic apron. For infected patients we wear enhanced PPE, including FFP3 masks that need to be specially fitted, full sleeve plastic gowns, gloves, goggles and a visor.

“All equipment is fully cleaned after every patient, which has increased our work load, it takes at least 10 minutes between patients. There is also a lot of hand washing and it is battering our skin, so we are very grateful to the public and companies that have donated good quality hand cream.

“The surgical masks have straps that go behind the ears, and the visors sit on your forehead – these become really uncomfortable and hot to wear, so again the hairbands with buttons, donated by members of the public, have been amazing. We are also very grateful for the snacks, chocolate and cakes, which kept us going through the long shifts!”

Staff teams

“We now use more members of staff per patient, a minimum of two staff members per patient - previously it was one. One staff member interacts with the patient, and the other remains in ‘clean areas’ and operates the scanner from the control room. X-raying patients on ITU also needs two members of staff and they need to wear enhanced PPE which takes time to ‘don and doff’. ‘Don’ and ‘Doff’ are the new words used for putting on and taking off PPE. There is a very detailed way to do this to ensure there is no cross contamination.

“We separated our staff into ‘teams’ and moved to 12-hour-shifts. This meant if one member of staff became infected then the whole team would need to isolate and the other teams would take over. We are all keeping in touch via WhatsApp and Facebook, but we do miss working with some of our colleagues. Different teams do not meet on shifts.”

Patient care

“We routinely now scan chests of inpatients who are attending for abdominal and pelvic scans and, in a small number of cases, we have identified patients with Covid pathology in the lungs who are asymptomatic. This allowed them to be moved into ‘purple’ areas in the hospital and thus stops cross contamination.

“Dorset has had one of the lowest infection rates so we have not been too overwhelmed in ITU or A&E. That said it has been very busy and emotionally stressful at times. One issue has been those not attending who should have attended; It is very sad to scan a patient who has suffered a stroke but waited three days to attend A&E with their symptoms and thus their treatment is now compromised. 

“We are now asking the routine outpatients to attend their scans that were put on hold whilst the hospital managed the Covid cases, as long as these patients are not vulnerable or shielding. Understandably, however, some of them are frightened to attend hospital and so we need to focus on educating them that we are incredibly hot on infection control and there is no chance they could accidentally wander into an infected area.

“We are starting to move to a new “Norm” as we move into the second phase and lockdown has eased. It has been really heart-lifting to see some patients who were seriously unwell get better and leave the hospital, in some instances these patients are our colleagues. Poole Hospital has been great at communicating to staff and supporting our wellbeing. There are new ‘relaxation hubs’, which are great places to go and take a break from the emotional intensity of it all. Little things like free car parking have also really helped us feel valued.”

AECC University College

“I would like to give a shout out to the students and staff at AECC University College. The students have been great in adapting to new ways of working and staff have been supporting each other with daily coffee morning skype drop-ins.

“Other medical imaging staff have also worked clinically in the NHS during this time and our WhatsApp group has been a good way to de-stress and support each other. I am grateful to be able to help during these times, I love radiography and, more than ever, it is really important for our healthcare.

“Thanks also to everyone who has stayed at home and helped keep our levels of infection under control. Now it’s time to really practice social distancing if out and about and WASH YOUR HANDS!”