"It's not just the patients we care for, it's each other too."

Student nurse Georgia Capstaff and her colleagues across the North Cumbria Integrated Care (NCIC) NHS Foundation Trust have been at the forefront of the county's response to Covid-19.

They have faced challenges never before experienced by the NHS - but they have risen to this challenge.

In celebration of the commitment and dedication displayed by north Cumbria's NHS workforce, the NCIC trust last week presented a select few individuals and teams with special "thank you" awards.

The award winners, selected from more than 100 nominations with a total of more than 13,000 votes from staff, exemplified the compassion and diligence shown by the NHS workforce throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nineteen-year-old nursing student Georgia Capstaff was one of those recognised by the awards, receiving a highly commended certificate for coming a very close second in the student category.

As a first year University of Cumbria nursing student when the pandemic first hit, Georgia could not continue her placement on the Cumberland Infirmary's Beech C ward.

She could have returned home to Newcastle, but she chose instead to stay on the ward as a bank healthcare assistant, supporting her colleagues in treating Covid-19 positive patients.

Left alone in her student accommodation as her flatmates returned home, Georgia was unable to see her parents in person for 14 weeks, as they were both shielding back in Newcastle.

But Georgia took these challenges, in her stride and threw herself into her work on the Covid frontline.

To have been nominated for an award by her colleagues was extremely humbling for Georgia.

"It's quite overwhelming, because I've only worked in the trust for a handful of months," she said.

"I'm not a contracted staff member on that ward, but I feel like a part of their family now. For them to nominate me is really heartwarming."

For Georgia, working in a clinical setting is also about taking care of and supporting her colleagues, as well as her patients.

"You just take each day as it comes, and you don't actually realise how much you are able to help, whether that be helping the patient or helping the team on the ward," she said.

"Sometimes if you're having a bad day at work, you need each other.

"It's not just the patients we care for, it's each other."

This was especially true when facing the particular challenges brought by Covid-19.

"You need each other to get through. What we were seeing every day was like nothing that we've ever seen before," Georgia said.

"You definitely need each other for the encouragement.

"I definitely couldn't have done it without that team behind me. There's no group of people I'd rather work with."

This was underlined over the Easter weekend, when Georgia, who was still isolated from her family, herself became ill with Covid-19.

"I had everyone from work getting in touch to check on me," Georgia said.

"They knew I was on my own. They brought my shopping to the door.

"You don't realise how much you miss your work friends until you're not with them."

Receiving the commendation has been a boost to Georgia's self-confidence, who was initially concerned she might fall behind in her nursing studies as a result of the pandemic.

"It's definitely boosted my self-esteem. I missed out on what would have been my normal placement.

"I was worried I was going to fall behind, whether I would graduate later.

"But I was gaining a huge amount of experience."

The importance of being there for each other to help face the challenges brought about by Covid-19 was echoed by fellow award winner Laura Hocking, who leads the physiotherapy musculoskeletal team at the West Cumberland Hospital.

She received the individual innovative practice award for leading the service's transformative adaptation to the restrictions made necessary by Covid-19.

"We rely on each other very much within our teams," she said.

"We're emotional support for each other.

"I think on some of those tough days, when your morale was really low it was really important to have those people around you.

"It is a really big boost to know that you've helped each other, helped your colleagues, and to feel like people want to recognise you is hugely morale boosting."

Described as a "true rock" by her colleagues, Laura said that while she herself was the award winner, the achievements in adapting west Cumbria's physiotherapy services to the new realities of Covid-19 was most certainly a team achievement.

"I've been very fortunate with the team that I work with," she said.

"Although it's an individual award for innovation, it's very much the team working together.

"It wouldn't have been possible to put those innovations in place if everyone hadn't come along with me and supported me in doing those.

"The NHS is valuable to us all, and the people who work in it are passionate and really dedicated people. Across the trust, the teams have really pulled together. "

As one of the award winners, Laura said it meant a lot to her to have been recognised in this manner by the trust, and by her colleagues.

"To be thanked by the trust, I think it helps to make us all feel valued, and I certainly think it helps boost morale at the moment, because we're all aware that we're heading into a potentially challenging time again," she said.

Laura explained that it was a challenge to instantly adapt the West Cumberland Hospital's physiotherapy services, which typically sees between 200 and 300 patients a week, to the presence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"That's not including all of our outlying departments," she said.

"During the pandemic, obviously that was immediately stopped overnight.

"We had these huge caseloads of patients who were obviously still needing physiotherapy treatment.

"People who were in pain, people who were unable to function.

"We initially converted all of our face-to-face appointments to telephone consultations.

"We introduced home working for all of our staff.

"Then we managed to set up virtual consultations, so we were video conferencing with people."

Laura also helped to coordinate the redeployment of some of the trust's physiotherapy outpatient unit staff into the trust's hospitals, to augment its workforce in the face of the extra challenges brought by Covid-19.

To have had to instantly adapt to the restrictions brought about by the pandemic put Laura and her team in "completely uncharted territory".

"It was completely not the way that any of us had worked before," Laura said.

"It was really challenging. We were obviously in completely uncharted territory.

"We were asking all of our staff to do things that we'd never even considered having to do before.

"That was everybody from our administration to our clinical staff."

However, with thousands of people in need of physiotherapy, it was simply not an option to merely close the service down.

"We couldn't close the doors and say that physiotherapy was shut," Laura said.

"It was the knowledge that there were people who still needed us.

"It was challenging, but the whole team got on board."

To rise to the challenge presented by coronavirus was something Laura and her team were more than willing to do.

"It gave staff a purpose at the time. Staff obviously had their own concerns and worries. We're all human, we all lived throughout this pandemic," Laura said.

"They were able to still provide help and support, although it wasn't the way we would choose to do that if the pandemic wasn't a factor.

"And people were very grateful.

"We spoke to an awful of of people who were just very grateful that there was still some kind of input."

The pandemic has brought challenges to all of the trust's staff, just as it has to NHS staff across the country.

NCIC chief executive Lyn Simpson stressed that "every single staff member" across the trust has gone "over and above within their roles to support the NHS during what has been one of the most difficult times we have ever faced".

“Individuals and teams were thrown in at the deep end, with many being redeployed into other areas where they were needed, others moved out of their homes to keep their families safe and everyone adjusted and adapted to new ways of working to make sure we could look after our Cumbrian communities," she said.

“I am so proud of our staff for what they have achieved, we could not have managed the pandemic without them.

“Because of this we felt it was important to give some thanks back to our staff, to thank them for their incredibly hard work this year and the complete dedication and commitment they have given to the trust, their patients and the wider community.

"As such we launched our staff thank you awards which are part of our 3 day virtual Festival of Thanks that has been introduced as one way we can say thank you.”

“We have received some absolutely outstanding nominations that really showcase the exceptional work our staff have been doing. We know this is only a snippet of the work that’s been happening behind the scenes and would also like to thank and recognise every member of staff at the trust for their support.”

The other NCIC staff members honoured in last week's thank you awards were:

Student award winner

Abbie Stainton, who has been working as a student midwife at the Cumberland Infirmary.

Abbie’s colleagues said: “Throughout the pandemic Abbie has shown commitment, enthusiasm, professionalism and fantastic team spirit. She is a student who embodies the trust values and will be a wonderful asset to the trust when she qualifies.”

Volunteer award winner

Joseph Dean, Meet and Greet volunteer at West Cumberland Hospital.

During the pandemic, Joseph stepped up and supported a group of newly recruited volunteers, ensuring that they were welcomed to the trust, felt supported and had a point of contact. Joseph demonstrated kindness to both current and newly recruited volunteers and he supported many other teams.

JWDG Printers were also given a special volunteer award by the trust, for setting up their own production line constructing visors for teams across the trust.

Redeployed individual award winner

John Mulligan, Physiotherapist, Cumberland Infirmary.

John has been described as “amazing” and “invaluable” by his colleagues.

He was redeployed from the outpatient musculoskeletal service to the acute in-patient physiotherapy team. From day one of his redeployment, colleagues say he was flexible, adaptable, supportive and professional.

Redeployed team award winner

Sexual Health team, Cumbria-wide.

During the early days of the pandemic back in March and April, this team were quickly redeployed to support a range of other teams and services. This included supporting the Covid track and trace, community hospitals, other community teams as well as clinics.

Compassionate individual award winner

Jill Li, Physiotherapist at the Cumberland Infirmary.

Jill is the lead physiotherapist for surgical and Intensive Treatment Unit and put hard work and dedication into working on the ITU during the pandemic.

She put great effort into meeting patients’ needs making sure all patients were able to receive physiotherapy. She also provided great support to her team and other staff.

Compassionate team award winner

Health visiting team, Cumbria-wide.

This team work all across Cumbria and have adapted their service to continue supporting and caring for the families they work with. They have embraced and utilised technology to not only support those they are caring for but also to work together as a team virtually.

Innovative practice team award winner

The Intensive Care Unit team at West Cumberland Hospital.

This team have had to implement innovative working throughout the pandemic in order to keep their patients, visitors and colleagues safe. The team took it all in their stride when the capacity on the unit was increased by adding capacity to the Covid Red Zone and the team have shown amazing resilience, incredible team work, compassion, kindness and outstanding care under extremely difficult circumstances.

They have supported and thought of inspirational ways of keeping families in touch with one another during these unforeseen times. A patient’s relative commented that the ICU team at Whitehaven is a team that the trust should be proud of.