Training for the London Nightingale – what’s it like on the inside?

London Nightingale hospitalAfter receiving training for the London Nightingale hospital, Louisa Jarvie and Georgia Ashworth-Davies talk about their experiences.

This was not a normal trip to the O2 Arena. Instead of swarms of excited people, there was a socially distanced collection of professionals, anxiously awaiting Nightingale redeployment training. Having downed our drills several weeks prior, we grasped the opportunity to volunteer. With many doing the same, we were surprised to get a call from the Nightingale workforce team, asking us to attend.

What did you feel prior to attending training?

Georgia: Having heard little from the few who had already attended training, I was intrigued about what it would involve. Although unsettled by the unknown, I was stimulated by the prospect of learning something new and, finally, engaging in practical activity. After pacifying my mother, who was concerned about me travelling back to the ‘COVID hotspot’ of London, I was ready to go.

Louisa: Initially, I was unsure whether my training would go ahead. Earlier in the week they announced that London Nightingale was closing. I was excited to hear it was still happening. After weeks at home, which initially began as a nice change of pace, it was getting a little claustrophobic. I was looking forward to a change of scene and the opportunity to get involved.

What was the purpose of training?

Georgia: Being in one of the earlier batches of volunteers, training was still angled at the realistic prospect of re-deployment, despite the low number of inpatients. As my hospital shift start dates were awaiting confirmation, it became more apparent that lockdown was successfully reducing demand on NHS services. As well as the need for the Nightingale hospital.

Louisa: It was explained that the Nightingale was a field hospital; meaning training would be unique to that hospital within the current circumstances. Training continued to be provided after the Nightingale had closed in preparation for a potential second spike. The rationale being that, should such an unfortunate event occur, there is a trained army of volunteers ready to fortify the NHS workforce.

What happened at the training?

Arriving on the first day felt a little strange; the vast O2 arena was virtually empty, except for rows of imitation hospital bays containing plastic ‘patients’. Given the hasty development of the programme, it was impressively run by a large team of nurses, doctors and educators, supported by public volunteers. We were separated into small groups, spanning a variety of professions including midwives, osteopaths, physiotherapists – to name a few. Each group rotated through various observational, practical or simulation stations. All while attempting to maintain two metre distances.

We were trained to become a clinical support worker, caring for a critically ill COVID-19 patient. Their role is to support ICU doctors and nurses. They carry out tasks such as: proning, essential care of sedated patients and taking routine observations and recordings. It was surprising just how many elements required monitoring: general appearance, integrity of central and peripheral lines, volume of fluids in and out, bed sores and monitor parameters. Although it’s been several years since we were familiarised with the functioning of the body below the neck, trainers were understanding and accommodated varying levels of experience. Training was thorough, and all-encompassing, preparing us for each element of the role.

What did you learn?

We learnt a vast amount; both returning home with our brains fully saturated. What remained with us, however, was the number of people required to look after a ventilated patient on a COVID ward. This exposed us to the reality of their condition – sedation to such a degree that they rely on other people and machines for nearly everything. We developed an even greater respect for intensive care staff, realising just how many things they need to monitor, many of which have life or death importance.

What was your favourite thing about training?

The immeasurable positive energy of those running the training. They are individuals who have fully embraced the circumstances they found themselves in. And the subsequent readiness of trainees to follow suit and get stuck in. It was gratifying to feel potentially useful. As dentists, we are practical and caring individuals, so by nature want to help where possible. The training meant learning skills a world away from our day-to-day lives. It bestowed us with the ability to help those in need – if and when we are required.

Post training, how do you feel about the possibility of working at the Nightingale?

At this point, our training will likely not be needed without the unfortunate resurgence of the virus. Our hope, therefore, is that we are never required. Although we would happily volunteer our newly learnt skills, it would be a daunting prospect. Transitioning from preserving the vitality of a pulp, to being part of a team attempting to save the life of a human being, bears great responsibility.

Do you think anything you have learnt will apply to practice?

We have been equipped with a greater understanding as to what comprises appropriate PPE with regards to COVID risk, and how to carry out safe donning and doffing procedures. The practice environment, that we are eventually reunited with, will be vastly different from the one we left. It is paramount that we ensure adequate protocols are in place, and apply our further developed knowledge of PPE.

Concluding thoughts

The experience was a positive one and we cannot commend the team behind the training more highly. Although the days felt long and the arena denied us of 24°C sunny London, it was a poignant reminder of the conditions in which our NHS staff are working. And the daily battles faced in intensive care units across the country.

We would encourage anyone considering volunteering for the Nightingale, should it unfortunately be required, to do so. Though it may feel like unfamiliar territory, working in a team to provide help to those that need it lies within any dentist’s capacity. Thankfully, implementation of our training was not necessary this time. We hope that it stays this way, but should we be required, we are ready to do our bit!


Before pursuing dentistry, Georgia grew up in Edinburgh. She graduated from the University of Bristol in 2019 and is currently enjoying her dental foundation training, working as a GDP in south west London.

Louisa is originally from Worcestershire. She graduated from Leeds University in 2019, and is currently completing her foundation year in south west London.

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