Connecting, learning and reflecting through COVID-19 – Hannah Esler

Hannah Esler

Hannah Esler always wanted to help people and to make a difference.  She is proud of her work in supporting people with poor mental health, and gets a great sense of job satisfaction when she sees a positive change in people.

In this week’s Nightingale Blog, Hannah highlights the impact of COVID and an increased demand on mental health services – and the importance of remaining connected with service users, to help reduce isolation and loneliness.

I have always wanted to help people; to make a difference, that’s why I chose a career in nursing. I am a Mental Health Nurse working within the Community Mental Health Team for Older People in Newtownabbey.  I have worked with this brilliant and professional team for over two years.  I am proud of the work we do to support people suffering from poor mental health on their journey to recovery, and their carers, and for the support we provide to services users living with a dementia and their families.  There is a great sense of job satisfaction when you see the positive change in people resulting from the person-centred care and support we provide.

There has always been a stigma attached to poor mental health, resulting in people not reaching out for the help and support available.  Part of my role is to reduce that stigma, promote the importance of seeking help and support, and raising awareness of available services and resources through collaborative working with the voluntary sector.

My job entails face to face visits with people in their own homes – an environment where they are most comfortable and are able to be open and honest, facilitating a rich and detailed account of their health problems and individual assessed needs.  Since COVID-19, this is no longer the case. We have had to adapt to a virtual way of working, utilising apps such as Zoom, when appropriate; the positive in this is that we were able to remain connected with our service users, and provide the best support we could, to help reduce isolation and loneliness within the age group we work with.  However, in mental health, a big part of the assessment is interpreting a service user’s body language and when assessments are being completed via telephone or even Zoom, it has not been possible to effectively interpret this.  A dementia diagnosis can be earth-shattering for a person and their family; dementia affects a person’s ability to communicate, making virtual discussions and support even more difficult.  However, having an already established rapport with service users, their families and carers, helped in overcoming this barrier.

Prior to COVID-19, I already had an established workload.  The pandemic has increased the demand for mental health services therefore the workload has increased, but the team I work alongside is very supportive and we help each other in every way possible to meet the demand whilst continuing to provide high quality care to all our service users and their families.   It has also outlined some very important aspects of the Nursing and Midwifery Council Code and standards of practice with regards to prioritising people and ensuring their needs are being met appropriately whilst preserving safety.

‘Having an open door is fundamental’

We are all leaders, and have an important role to play in our teams.  Different leadership styles promote different outcomes within the team, some can get the best out of a team and others can prevent a team from working effectively.  However, for us in the job we do, compassionate leadership, working together and supporting each other by always having an ‘open door’ is fundamental.  Leadership has never been more important than it is now during the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic has given me the opportunity to further develop my decision making and communication skills.  I have had to communicate in new ways and with people that I would have previously never had any contact with.

I was afforded the opportunity to develop my own leadership skills by being part of the Nightingale Challenge Global Leadership Development Programme; the programme was launched to coincide with the Year of Nurse and Midwife 2020.  I was excited when my name was put forward.  Initially, I wasn’t sure what the programme would entail, but that was part of the excitement.  Firstly, we attended a two day workshop at Stormont Hotel in Belfast.   The programme commenced with some thought provoking presentations and conversations from other nurse leaders from all around the world.  The sessions included meeting Professor Charlotte McArdle, Chief Nursing Officer for Northern Ireland and a captivating presentation from Howard Catton, Chief Executive Officer with the International Council of Nurses, Geneva.  We were also able to connect with Dr Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

Sharing experiences

Little did we know what was ahead of us and the layout and facilitation of the programme was about to change.  Just like with many services across the Trust, the programme had to adapt and since March 2020 we have completed our workshops via Zoom.  Even though these were completed virtually, it did not impact on the delivery; it continued to afford us the opportunity to catch up with each other and also network with other young nurses from around the world and discuss what challenges they are facing as young leaders.  It has been a real benefit to continue to link with my colleagues on both the Global Leadership Development Programme and Northern Nightingales.  It has been fantastic to be able to share experiences of working throughout the pandemic and is reassuring to know that everyone has experienced difficult times but we are in it together and the support from my fellow nurses has been so beneficial.

At the beginning of the programme, I developed a number of professional and personal goals which I hoped I would achieve throughout the year.  COVID-19 has impacted on my progression with these goals, as with everyone the focus and priority changed drastically in a short space of time.  Two professional goals in particular included; raising the profile of mental health nursing, and developing skills to implement a drive for development and innovation within my team.  Mental Health Nursing is under represented and I am proud to be able to utilise the programme as a platform to talk about this field of nursing, raise its profile and to contribute to shared learning both regionally and internationally.

I have had the opportunity to progress a quality improvement (QI) project, and to support this project we received training from the Northern Trust’s Innovation and Quality Improvement Lead, Gill Smith. This training was very beneficial in outlining the fundamentals that are required to make a QI project successful. The training was completed via Zoom and the group number was small which meant we were able to discuss our projects individually and get support and advice specific to each project. It also provided the opportunity to network and collaborate with staff from other departments within the Trust.

I am an advocate for self-care and particularly within mental health nursing, self-care is so important.  It is key to develop coping strategies that are personal and work for you, something we do with service users on a regular basis.  COVID-19 has made me realise even more how important self-care is, it has increased my own self-awareness and made me more resilient, it has encouraged me to take time for myself to do the things I enjoy.  Working during the pandemic has had its challenges but it has also made me so proud of the job I do.

Hannah Esler, Community Psychiatric Nurse, Community Mental Health Team for Older People, Newtownabbey.

Participant in the Northern Ireland Global Leadership Development Programme.

Hannah is one of five Northern Trust staff participating in the Northern Ireland Global Leadership Development Programme which is part of the Nightingale Challenge launched by Nursing Now, to enable the next generation of nurses and midwives to play a bigger role in multi-disciplinary teams, working together to improve health and influence policy.  The Nightingale Challenge encourages healthcare employers to support at least 20 nurses and midwives to develop their leadership skills during the 2020 International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. 

@NHSCTrust #NorthernNightingales
@NursingNow2020 #NursingNowNI #NightingaleChallenge

Other Northern Trust Nightingale Blogs

Gemma McClean, Hospital Diversion Nursing Sister
Judith Shevlin, Community Mental Health Nurse
Denise O’Donnell, Acting Ward Manager, Covid-19 assessment ward
Eleni McCrea, Community Midwife, Whiteabbey Hospital
Stacey Barclay, Midwife, C2, Antrim Area Hospital
Vanessa Best, Community Mental Health Nurse, Oakview House
Kirsty Wallace, Staff Nurse, Antrim Area Hospital
Christine Beare, Staff Nurse, Neonatal, Antrim Area Hospital
Laura Smith, Midwife, Causeway Hospital, Coleraine
Mandy Young, Deputy Sister, Laurel House Chemotherapy Unit, Antrim
Nerell Browne, Practice Development Nurse, REaCH Team, Northern Trust
Chantelle Crowe, Deputy Ward Manager, Causeway Hospital
Michelle Angelone, Community Learning Disability Nurse
Catherine Middleton, Rehabilitation in Mental Health, Holywell Hospital
Lauren Campbell-Withers, Staff Nurse, Whiteabbey Hospital
Lindsay McNinch, A4, Respiratory Medicine, Antrim Area Hospital
Rebecca Leckie, Staff Nurse, Ward A3 Respiratory, Antrim Area Hospital
Bronagh Smiley, District Nursing Sister, Ballymena
Ashleigh Pullins, District Nursing Sister, Larne Integrated Care Team
Brinin Anderson, Staff Nurse, C5, Surgical Division, Antrim Area Hospital
Alan Divito, Midwife, Causeway Hospital

Northern Nightingales

2020 International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife logo

25th November 2020

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