Tan Tock Seng Hospital staff step up to help nurses stretched by Covid-19 pandemic

Therapy assistants receiving training as part of TTSH's para-nursing programme. PHOTO: TAN TOCK SENG HOSPITAL

SINGAPORE - About 150 staff from Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) have stepped up to be trained in some nursing duties to ease the strain on its nursing workforce.

Around 1,500 employees across the hospital - including doctors, nurses and therapists - have been deployed to fight Covid-19 at TTSH's screening centre and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID).

"We have been on the Covid-19 front lines for nearly two years, and while enhanced infection control measures are the norm for our staff, the recent surge in the community has not been easy," said Dr Hoi Shu Yin, TTSH's chief nurse, on Wednesday (Oct 6).

To allow the remaining nurses to concentrate on clinical care for patients, the hospital launched a programme in September for non-nursing staff to be trained and carry out less-specialised - but still essential - nursing tasks.

Known as para-nurses, the staff, who come from various backgrounds, are deployed temporarily in one of four roles.

First, therapy assistants, who help provide close bedside care to patients by doing things such as moving them in and out of bed and feeding them.

Second, patient service associates, who collect data on patients' vital signs.

Third, health attendants, who provide cleaning services and assist with turning patients in their beds to prevent bedsores.

Fourth, administrators, who help collect blood samples from patients. Staff who were previously trained as nurses but moved on to administrative roles are trained in this duty.

Ms Laura Ho, deputy director of TTSH's nursing service, said the idea was to assign trainees to jobs which matched skills they had in their previous roles, so that they could be quickly trained and deployed.

"During this pandemic, the nurses are very drained," she said.

"It's about providing that extra helping hand - and to tell our nurses, 'You're not alone, you have a group of people around to help you manage.'"

She added that the hospital aims to have another 30 such para-nurses trained by the end of October.

The para-nurses are deployed from areas which have reduced their patient loads by postponing non-urgent outpatient appointments or electives.

Two of those extending help are Ms Crishanna Devi Naidu Thayalamurugan, a therapy assistant in TTSH's occupational therapy department, and Ms Kelly Ler, a senior patient service associate in the hospital's Centre for Geriatric Medicine.

Ms Crishanna Devi Naidu Thayalamurugan, a therapy assistant in TTSH's occupational therapy department, tending to a patient. PHOTO: TAN TOCK SENG HOSPITAL

In her previous role, Ms Crishanna helped therapists transfer and move patients, and would sometimes see her own patients as well.

Ms Ler used to assist doctors during consultations, and called patients and families to arrange appointments and home deliveries for medication.

To make the switch to their new roles, Ms Crishanna was taught the different types of oxygen masks patients might require and how to change their diapers, among other things. Ms Ler had to learn how to feed patients and move them from a bed to a chair.

They currently look after about five to 10 patients in general wards each. Aside from performing duties such as measuring vital signs and bringing patients to the toilet, they also lend patients a listening ear.

"They don't really have a lot of people to talk to, so when we're there and can listen to them, it makes them happier, puts them at ease," said Ms Crishanna.

Ms Ler said she does fear catching Covid-19, given the recent surge in cases, as she lives with her elderly parents.

Ms Kelly Ler, senior patient service associate at TTSH's Centre for Geriatric Medicine, tending to a patient. PHOTO: TAN TOCK SENG HOSPITAL

But despite the risk and other challenges, they are pressing on. "This is part of our job," Ms Ler explained.

"I know the nurses are already very stressed, so if we can help with these duties, it'll help reduce some of their workload."

Ms Crishanna added: "Our patients are (our) number one priority. We want the best care for them, and if there's a manpower shortage, it'll be difficult to give them our best...

"Now that we're here, we can attend to their needs and the nurses can do their job even better, because we're there to back them up."

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