Although Tracy Hunter trained as a nurse and knows how to give injections, she never imagined when she joined Healthcare Improvement Scotland that she would be supporting a mass vaccination programme – and administering to patients herself. As we celebrate International Day of the Nurse, Tracy, an Assistant Programme Advisor for NMAHP’s Healthcare Staffing Programme tells us the challenges of setting up and running a vaccination programme for NHS Fife – and proves that nurses can turn their hand to just about anything.  

When I was first asked to help support the set up and roll out of the COVID vaccination programme for NHS Fife, my first thought was “This is a mammoth task – how on earth am I going to do this?”

Now, over 200,000 vaccinations later, over 62% of Fife’s population have had the vaccine – quite an achievement, and one I’m very proud to have been involved with, given everything we’ve all gone through in the past year. And certainly not bad for someone who started out wanting to be a teacher!

Learning to fly

Nursing wasn’t how I originally saw my life panning out. When I left school, I trained as a teacher, but my heart was always in nursing and wanting to help people. There’s no greater feeling than knowing you have provided the highest quality care to an individual and their families. I feel very privileged to be a nurse and have met and worked alongside so many amazing people.

When the reality of the pandemic began to kick in in March last year, I was on secondment to Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s Healthcare Staffing Programme from my role as a senior charge nurse in adult inpatient services in NHS Fife. Like so many of my colleagues, I was deployed back to my home board to lend a hand to tackling COVID-19, firstly in a senior charge nurse role on a palliative care ward and later through joint care assurance visits with social work colleagues to nursing and care homes.

Seeing the impact the pandemic had, like most people I was delighted when a vaccine finally came in to use. Supporting its set up was quite another thing. In many ways it’s been like flying a plane when you are still trying to build it. That’s a phrase we’ve been using on a daily basis, and it really has been a huge task for everyone involved.

In the wee small hours of the morning…

One of the biggest challenges has been recruitment and management of rosters. Logistically, it was a bit of a headache to start with, and my knowledge of rostering and workforce planning was certainly a benefit in helping set up clinics.

We started out by building a rostering team, and in the early days we were building rosters in the wee small hours  – my office actually became my bedroom for a couple of weeks. All the staff have been phenomenal, working excess hours at the drop of a hat to establish clinics. Along the way I’ve tried to be open and honest with the team as we worked alongside all the required agencies to bring the clinics together. I’ve asked the ‘daft lassie’ questions where I needed to, and not been afraid to do so.

Focusing on people, not processing

One of the things that I and the team were determined about when we were setting up clinics is not allowing them to be conveyor belts. I’m passionate about delivering person-centred care, and was keen to make sure every patient was welcomed and time was taken to discuss the vaccine procedure with them. To ensure this approach was being delivered, I’ve taken part in vaccinating people myself a number of times, helping out when teams are busy and need an extra pair of hands. It’s been great chatting to members of the public who in some cases have not been out of their homes for months. I will never forget one elderly gentleman who came in wearing his best suit. He was thrilled to receive his vaccine, so much so we both shared a tear or two. He was so grateful and appreciative of our NHS – you don’t forget things like that.

It’s a feeling shared by staff across the board – the feedback is that they love working in the clinics.  So many members of the team work in their own jobs all day then support clinics in the evenings and weekends. I am in constant awe of them.

We’ve been supported in all this by teams from the army, who have helped us in so many ways. Their medical teams have taken part in vaccinating, they’ve helped facilities teams by adapting community clinics and empty shops into vaccination clinics, and they’ve supported the logistics of setting up and running clinics. They have been phenomenal, always sharing what they’ve learned – they’ve become part of the team. And like us, they have particularly enjoyed the regular donations of cakes and steak pies from local bakeries!

Typical day

A typical day for me at the moment is manic – it starts at the crack of dawn and then the day just flies by. It usually consists of rostering workforce (right people, right skills, right place), clinical updates, and educating and training of new recruits, particularly Band 3 healthcare support worker vaccinators  – a brand new role developed for the pandemic. There are never two days the same and always some curve ball or other you’re not expecting. On the odd occasion where the clinics have been a little quieter, we’ve been able to offer support to GP practices which is always gratefully welcomed.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, and always room to improve and develop, as with everything, but I am so proud of what we have achieved, 19 vaccination clinics open across Fife and another four mass vaccination clinics. No mean feat given all the sleepless nights! I try to visit each of the clinics on a weekly basis, but it’s becoming harder with there being so many of them. For me personally, this has been a huge learning experience, and as I look forward to returning to work with colleagues in the Healthcare Staffing Programme, I hope we can make real use of everything we’ve all learned during this past year.

Tracy Hunter is an Assistant Programme Advisor for NMAHP’s Healthcare Staffing Programme, part of Healthcare Improvement Scotland

More information

Find out more about the work of our Healthcare Staffing Programme.