This Is What It’s Like To Go From Cabin Crew To Volunteering At The Nightingale Hospital

Georgia Aspinall speaks to Virgin Atlantic cabin member Becci Chute about her experience supporting NHS workers on the Covid-19 frontline.

Nightingale staff

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

‘Walking into the Nightingale, I expected something completely different to what I was met with,’ says Becci Chute. ‘I thought it would be carnage, that there would be people everywhere and it would be really stressful but it was the complete opposite.’

Becci, 27, has been a cabin crew member for Virgin Atlantic for the last nine years. But in mid-March, when Covid-19 brought international travel to a screaming halt, she was put on furlough from 1 April to the end of May as part of the government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Sitting at home for four weeks with nothing to do, Becci was then offered the chance to volunteer (on an unpaid basis) at the Nightingale hospital in London – a temporary field hospital in the ExCel centre built specifically to treat Covid-19 patients.

‘I jumped at the chance, I wanted to do something to help’ she says. ‘I never expected to end up in a job like this but I’d already been at home for three or four weeks, so I was ready to get out of the house and do something.’

Virgin staff are able to perform two roles: a welfare worker and a clinical support worker. Whereas clinical support workers are on the wards ‘washing patients’ and doing whatever tasks they can to their degree of medical training, welfare workers are supporting the doctors and nurses on the frontline.

‘We went in quite blind,’ Becci tells Grazia. ‘The application process happened so quickly there wasn’t a lot of information about what to expect. The night before our first day we got an email saying “We’ve found this role you would be perfect for with your customer service experience” and sent through the job role for welfare worker. That’s really all we knew.’

With so little information about what to expect, Becci admits she thought she’d be walking into a much more daunting situation than what occurred. ‘It's actually a really calm nice atmosphere,’ she explains. ‘The Nightingale gets new staff everyday so we typically spend the first few hours greeting staff as they walk in and giving them directions or helping them register. Then they go for what’s called a “fit test”’.

The fit test is where PPE is fitted to make sure it’s working properly, something Becci says people in her role don’t need because they're not working with patients. ‘We’re in what’s called a “green area”,’ she adds. ‘It’s so safe and there are cleaners everywhere. I feel safer when I'm at the Nightingale than when I go to Tesco.’

And, it’s helping her own wellbeing too, knowing she’s using the skills she normally reserves for ‘300-400 passengers’ to help support frontline workers.

Becci, Cat, James and Rachel
(From left to right) Becci, Cat, James and Rachel are all cabin crew members. ©Becci Chute

Between green areas are donning and docking stations, where clinicians will walk through and either be fitted for PPE or have it removed and disposed of – after that they’re free to roam breakout areas where Becci and her colleagues are waiting to support them further.

‘We’re in the breakout areas for the rest of the shift and we’re basically there if they want to have a chat or a cup of tea,’ she says. ‘We can tell them what support systems are available to them – because there are loads, like 24/7 occupational therapy and 24/7 psychiatry. Nine times out of 10 they don’t need any support but they just want a chat.’

While Becci’s job at the Nightingale is seemingly more positive and safe than you might assume, on the wards, it can be a different story. ‘I’ve been near the doors just before they go in to be fitted for their PPE and you can hear that it must be really intense for them,’ she says. ‘Not only are they in full PPE but it’s very noisy because you’re not in a private hospital room, you’re in an open ward.’

With that in mind, Becci says that the support team is making a huge difference to the atmosphere in the hospital – especially since the cabin crew staff also get to deliver the many gifts NHS staff have been sent by sponsors. ‘The staff always say it's so nice to see the same faces greeting them and making sure they’re OK and feel safe.'

And, it’s helping her own wellbeing too, knowing she’s using the skills she normally reserves for ‘300-400 passengers’ to help support frontline workers. ‘It’s 100% helped me process all of the anxiety going around right now,’ Becci says. ‘Just having more knowledge of what’s going on really helps but also it’s just so rewarding.

‘I would never leave my cabin crew job, but after this I have thought to myself “what was I doing before on my days off?”.'

Read More:

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Good News Worth Sharing: More Than 500,000 People Have Volunteered To Help The NHS Fight Coronavirus

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