By Lucy Ashton
At first glance it looks like any other tribute to our NHS staff – a rainbow taking pride of place on the wall of a busy corridor.
But on closer inspection, it’s clear this rainbow means more than most. It is made of up more than 300 coloured hand-prints, alongside more than 300 names and a simple message – ‘These hands helped, held, healed and honoured … together we were stronger’.
This rainbow is a very powerful, personal tribute to every single member of the Emergency Department at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.
Consultants, porters, nurses, domestics, even the volunteers who gave their time at the height of the crisis – they’re all there, side by side. No hierarchy, no pecking order, just one team. A family, in fact.
Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Emergency Department at the QEUH, along with every other area of the NHS, have been working under a level of pressure very few have ever experienced.
The effort they put in and the resilience they showed – keeping smiling and keeping supporting each other every day – was something that Leanne Kennedy and Karen Hughes, both Senior Charge Nurses and Emergency Nurse Practitioners in the department, wanted to make sure would never be forgotten.
“Myself and Karen wanted to do something to recognise the efforts that people were putting in when they came to work,” said Leanne.
“COVID has been the first big crisis that the department has had to deal with since the opening of the hospital and, once we’re long gone, we wanted to leave something as a permanent reminder of who they were and the amazing work they did.”
They knew they wanted to do something special, but the idea for the hands came from Karen’s sister.
“We were batting around some ideas of what we could do and I happened to mention it to my sister. She works in M&S, and she mentioned the rainbow of handprints that used to welcome people into the store. The idea came from there really.
“We tried to think of ways to do it, but eventually approached a sign company and asked them for help. They were happy to be involved and the company donated the sign for free, which we’ll always be grateful for.”
In July last year, the finished sign was put up in the corridor used by ambulance crews to bring patients into the department. Staff were thrilled, and Karen and Leanne were delighted to see their dream become reality – a special thank you to every member of the team.
“It’s wonderful to see everyone’s efforts recognised in this way,” Karen said. “When this crisis started we had no idea it would still be going nearly a year on. The way the team has dealt with it – the way they’re still delivering the very best care after all this time – is something I’ll always be proud of.
“At the beginning we all clapped every Thursday for our NHS. But even if we clapped every second, every day, I still don’t think we could do enough to say thank you to the amazing people who work here.”
Alan Whitelaw, Consultant in Emergency Medicine and Clinical Director for Emergency Medicine at the QEUH, said: “All our staff are working extremely hard and face unprecedented pressure just now. Gestures like these, large and small, go a long way in helping raise morale and reminding us we’re all in this together.”
Denise Wilkinson, Lead Nurse at the Emergency Department, said: “This has been a really difficult time for our staff. They have endured long days, wearing hot and sweaty PPE, yet they have kept going and even now, after all this time, they are delivering a fantastic level of care.
“We have a lot of fairly newly qualified staff – how they have dealt with it has been phenomenal. In fact, I don’t know how everyone in the team managed to keep going and support each other through this. I’m so proud of them all.”
The banner in the Emergency Department may carry the names of the hundreds of staff who work there, but Leanne wanted to pay tribute to all staff across the NHS in Greater Glasgow and Clyde and beyond, who have played such an important part throughout the pandemic. However, she had special mention for the emergency services who work day in, day out with the Emergency Department, and whose badges also appear on the banner.
Helping hands – hundreds of them – a fitting tribute to just one part of the NHS that is doing so much to keep us all safe.