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Emma Harper on her return to the NHS

Emma Harper on her return to the NHS

The former nurse and MSP for the South of Scotland returns to the NHS to help respond to the COVID-19 outbreak

“I'm just hoping that I can help support people, because that's what I want to do, I want to help,” Emma Harper says.

The MSP for South Scotland is one of thousands of former health professionals going back to the NHS to help respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The Scottish Government has estimated that more than 12,000 students and returners from health and social care have come forward to offer their skills and expertise during the pandemic.

Harper, who worked as a nurse for three decades before being elected to the Scottish Parliament, spoke to Holyrood about her decision to return at this time. 

“I've maintained my registration since becoming an MSP. Every two years you re-register, so I did that last August,” she says.

“I offered to go back and support the NHS during the COVID crisis. It was kind of a natural thing that if I could be of use, I would offer to support and if we are starting to see health care professionals stay home because they're either supporting young ones or parents or themselves in a self-isolation, I think we might have a need for health care workers.”

Harper adds: “When I spoke to cabinet secretary Jeanne Freeman, she said that my education skills would be something that might be looked out to support care in the community because we're going to need more support for people in their community as well.”

Holyrood speaks to Harper on the same day she attended her induction, where she was assessed on how best she could fit back into the NHS.

“At quarter to nine this morning I pitched up and there were eight other health care professionals in the room. A lot of them were nurses, psychologists, laboratory technicians,” she says.

It was kind of a natural thing, that if I could be of use, I would offer to support”

“The eight of us were able to obtain lots of information today about infection control and moving and handling, child protection, equality and PVG status. We did also some self-assessment on where we thought our skills might fit in to being placed in somewhere that can be useful.”

However, the decision to go back during a virus outbreak was not an easy one. Harper has type one diabetes, which is included in the World Health Organization’s list of underlying conditions that can lead to more severe coronavirus symptoms and complications.  

She is trying to be “pragmatic and objective” about the possibility of being exposed to the virus.

“I thought quite long and hard about it and I spoke to various people,” Harper says. 

“I've got type one diabetes, so I am kind of worried, but I'm used to working in an environment where I've worn head to foot gowns and hoods and gloves and double gloves and masks, and so for the last 30 years I've worn personal protective equipment every day as part of my job.

“I guess what is scary is that you don't know who's got COVID-19, you don't know that somebody that you're speaking to who's asymptomatic actually might be carrying the virus. I've been very careful in the last few weeks about social distancing and hand washing and supporting appropriate personal protective equipment.”

Harper is used to working in high-pressure environments as a nurse. At the beginning of her career, and after 18 months working in an operating theatre for NHS Dumfries and Galloway, she moved to Los Angeles and worked at level one trauma centre Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre for 14 years.

“It was a massive hospital compared to the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary district general. It employed about 3,000 nurses, it had 26 operating rooms, cardiac, liver transplant, it was doing neuro, it was doing lots of cutting-edge advanced surgery as well,” she says. 

Her last job working in NHS Scotland was as a clinical educator in acute and primary care, community hospitals and in people's homes, and she hopes to be placed back into this area. 

“I'm hoping that I'll be able to support the development of care workers, healthcare school workers, even nurses, whether it's washing hands, infection control, managing central venous access, doing ECGs, managing oxygen.”

Harper is confident she will be able juggle being an MSP with working on the frontline. “I hopefully will be able to juggle my time around that way and be available, and I've got a totally competent office staff that are on top of all the emails and casework and questions that are coming in,” she says. 

At the time of print, Harper was still being assessed for where best she will fit back into the NHS.

Read the most recent article written by Emily Woods - Care home deaths involving COVID-19 overtake deaths in hospital

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