01 May 2020

Community childcare during a crisis

Final-year UEA medical student, Tanya Ta, has been prioritising others by setting up a free childcare network for NHS workers in East Anglia to aid them during the COVID-19 crisis. She writes how a can-do mentality and community effort is pulling us through this difficult time. 


When I started my Medical degree I would never have imagined I’d be starting my medical career in the midst of a global pandemic. Despite this I now remind myself that this is what I signed up for – not for the gown at the end, but to help people, to care for people and to become a medical professional.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous to go from final-year student to Senior Medical Student Assistant at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) so suddenly. But with the help of a very supportive team at NNUH and lecturers at UEA, as well as the boost you get from seeing and hearing the national praise for NHS workers, it’s been a very rewarding process so far.

I’m based in the gastroenterology ward at the hospital, so although I’m not dealing with patients presenting symptoms of COVID-19, it can be worrying not knowing what situation I’ll walk into at the start of a new shift. Day-to-day I help compile medical notes, discuss medical cases with senior doctors and assist with the daily ward walk around where we chat to patients and review their progress. 

Before the lockdown began I had been organising the East Anglian arm of Helping Hands, a network that matches NHS workers with UEA medical students for childcare support. 

About two weeks before the lockdown, some of my course mates and I started discussing the fact that, even in a worst case scenario, NHS staff would still have to go to work. Not only would they be essential workers, we knew the outbreak could mean long working hours, difficult shift patterns and eventual school closures, leading to potential difficulties with childcare. 

So to help carry the burden, the East Anglian arm was formed as part of a national movement to pair up medical students with healthcare professionals who needed extra childcare during this difficult time.

At first it was a struggle to effectively signpost our offering and make workers across the region aware of the network. But since overcoming this hurdle we’ve had a phenomenal response and been able to match many people. In response, a lot of grateful parents who were struggling to find suitable childcare, especially on weekends and evenings, have been in touch to tell us how the scheme has made their lives that little bit easier.

Although the work of volunteers varies, they’ve been putting their new-found free time to good use by helping with homework, creating fun home-based activities and helping to maintain the children’s evening routines to supply them with some normality. 

Between volunteering on the wards and working through Helping Hands admin I’ve been making the most of all the new virtual lectures and resources from SMILE, a group dedicated to maintaining medical education during the lockdown. Despite everything, I have seen such a positive response from workers, volunteers and the general public in helping to fight this outbreak. I try and incorporate a daily walk into my routine as a nice break from what has become a pretty busy schedule for me but generally, after a long shift of being on my feet a long walk home is the last thing I want. So even the small acts of kindness like the local taxi firms giving me free lifts to and from work each weekend is something I’m so grateful for. 

Seeing the community come together with a ‘can do’ attitude is what’s helping everyone keep going. 


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