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​Life on the front line…for a school nurse

By day Penny Heseltine is continuing to work as a school nurse during the lockdown - but her service to the community does not end there. For she has also used her spare time to help establish two community support groups and recruit 50 volunteers who have made more than 600 shopping or support calls so far.

“We have had people crying with relief and have even had people getting in touch to help people from as far away as Newark, down near Lincoln," said Penny, who explained she helped set up the Marske and New Marske Coronavirus Support Group.

“We found that especially early on, people could be a bit confused and we found a very real need. One older man was going to the shops with an oxygen cylinder in his back pack. He lived in an area with a lot of older people who couldn't go out and so he did it himself, despite being far from well. We soon sorted that out. We did what we could to spread the word and even took a call from a desperate person in Redcar who had an elderly relative in Newark they were worried about. Thankfully, we were able to locate a more local support group.

“Our group evolved quite quickly and we were well organised so we found we were being called to Redcar a lot so we set up a sister group there which, I'm glad to say, has also really taken off."

For many such important work in the community would be full-time work. But Penny's real job as a school nurse is absolutely crucial.

“We've found a lot of the needs of the children and young people are the same as before," said Penny, who often supports older children and adolescents. “It can be emotional problems, sleep problems, relationship issues and we are very much involved in safeguarding children who may be vulnerable.

“I have found most of them are actually coping with lockdown quite well - it's the problems that were there before that we are continuing to support with but we are also very mindful that lockdown is increasing vulnerability for some people, we are keeping in contact with families and offering any support we can, these are difficult times for people and the information, advice and support that the School Nurse can provide is even more important during this time.

“We have had to adapt our school nurse service in response to the pandemic and we are pushing the message that we are still here to help, we would usually have seen a lot of children and young people in schools, as we can't do this at the moment, we have set up 'virtual' health drop-in sessions, we're also supporting through telephone calls and a lot of young people are on What's App. We have promoted our services though schools' social media and we are reaching a lot of the children but you do have a concern that you're missing the rich, detailed information you can gain through face-to-face contact.

“We can go out to meet children and young people face-to-face if we have concerns and I have colleagues who have done just that, we obviously adhere to social distancing principles and have Personal Protective Equipment."

Penny is looking forward to the lockdown ending and hopes there will be a positive legacy. “The community has come together brilliantly in so many ways and we need that to continue in better times."

Find out more about the Marske and New Marske Support Group by calling 07515597021 and the Redcar group on 07828269321.

School Nursing service can be contacted on 01642 444011 or schoolnurses@redcar-cleveland.gov.uk​​​

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