A student nurse treating mental health patients in Leicester has stepped up to the frontline in the fight against coronavirus.

Rebecca Hackfath, a second-year Mental Health Nursing student at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), is working for Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT) on a dedicated isolation ward at the Bradgate Mental Health Unit at Glenfield Hospital in between her studies, caring for mental health inpatients who have contracted COVID-19.

26-year-old Rebecca, who works on the Trust’s bank staff, as a healthcare assistant on the ward, said caring for people who have mental health conditions and the coronavirus was a challenging, but rewarding experience.

“I can’t just sit back and watch it happen; I need to help people. I am a nurse at the end of the day – just because someone has a physical illness doesn’t mean we stop caring for their mental illness,” she said.

“Some patients understand that they need to stay in their room and self-isolate, so it’s easier to reassure them. But with others, for example those who have conditions like dementia, it can be a very distressing situation. They can’t have visitors and they don’t understand why doctors and nurses are coming into their room wearing masks and gloves.

“There’s a lot of physical healthcare involved, so I have had to combine that with my knowledge of mental health nursing. As well as looking after their physical wellbeing, we also have to monitor our patients for behaviours associated with their conditions – for example, they might be at risk of self-harming.

“I’m trying to see it as a learning opportunity to get more experience of dealing with physical health.”

Rebecca was inspired to study Mental Health Nursing at DMU after fighting her own battle against anorexia during her teenage years and early 20s.

“I remember when I was really ill I would sit in hospital wishing I could help others,” she said. “The doctors, nurses, therapists and psychiatrists were all brilliant and it’s thanks to them that I got the help I needed.

“I have always loved the NHS because it saved my life. I’m so proud that I am now a part of it.”

When she is not working at the hospital, Rebecca is busy studying for her degree.

“I decided to stay at my uni home so that I could continue working for the unit,” she said. “My tutor has been really supportive and I’ve been able to FaceTime them, which has been helpful.

“I don’t think you can ever be prepared for dealing with a pandemic in the middle of doing a degree but it’s shown me that when it matters, everyone comes together to work as a team. The most important thing is to keep team morale high.

“It’s not just about the doctors and nurses, there are so many people who keep the NHS going – admin staff, porters and cleaners. They do not get enough recognition.

“I also think all the people staying at home deserve recognition because they are saving lives too.”

Rachel Kingman, service manager for LPT’s acute, forensic and rehabilitation mental health inpatient services, said:

Words can’t say how much we value the incredible work that our teams are doing at this time. The staff are working in unprecedented conditions to help keep our patients as safe as possible.

“As our future workforce, student nurses play a huge and vital role within our services and we are immensely grateful for their involvement and courage.

“We’re committed to supporting them, by providing mentors, and along with our teams across our mental health inpatient services, by providing regular supervision and reflection sessions and a package of health and wellbeing support.

“At the Bradgate Unit we have repurposed our Involvement Centre, which is now closed to the public, to provide a place where staff can relax and are provided with a drink and bite to eat. And in line with other parts of our Trusts and many other Trusts we’re providing ‘wobble rooms’, which are off-ward sanctuaries where colleagues can go for time out when they need it before, during or after a stressful shift.

“We are also grateful to the many local communities and organisations who have been generous with donations for our staff.”