Cadets from Royal Navy university units are volunteering to help the UK through the COVID pandemic. Across the nation, cadets have stepped up to drive ambulances, treat coronavirus patients, look after the vulnerable in lockdown and even advise political leaders – alongside continuing their studies.
The Royal Navy runs university units (URNUs) across the UK, giving around 60 students in each unit a taste of life in the Senior Service through their time as under-graduates, including taking their small patrol boats across northwest Europe in the summer to destinations as distant as the Baltic.
Instead, this year some cadets are juggling online learning, assignments and exams with helping the national effort.
Officer Cadet Beth Oelmann
In her hometown of Cardiff, second-year student nurse Officer Cadet Beth Oelmann (top) has volunteered to work in the city’s University Hospital as a student nurse/health care support worker, treating patients suffering from COVID and other illnesses.
“I knew that I could help make a difference to patients’ care and my URNU training has provided me with the confidence to confront any issue face on,” the 21-year-old said.
“I’m in a fortunate position to be able help in the crisis without affecting others around me and grateful that I am able to help in any way.”
With family visits to hospital severely limited by the virus outbreak, Beth has seen its impact on patients – and their recovery.
She and fellow nurses have done their utmost to plug that gap and focus on the emotional wellbeing of those on the wards – including a friend and fellow student nurse who contracted the virus and spent 22 days in intensive care.
“Each day we heard how the nurses cared for her and I knew I wanted other family members to feel the same way I felt about my friend,” she added.
The student has also been surprised by how much of her 18 months with the Royal Navy has helped in her hospital work – and above all, the support of her shipmates and the wider general public.
“I feel an innate sense of pride in being just a small part of this huge movement, the teamwork has been inspiring to see,” Beth added.
Trainee doctor Midshipman Harriet Sexton
In Oxford URNU trainee doctor Midshipman Harriet Sexton has volunteered to help her local GP practice checking in on vulnerable patients and making sure they are up to date with the current advice, as well as stocked with food and medicines.
“I also call an elderly lady every day,” Harriet added. “She lives alone and has major health problems. I’m really enjoying the experience and our conversation topics have ranged from the Kardashians to the Great British Sewing Bee. I leave every call feeling like I’ve really made a difference to someone’s day.”
Her Oxford URNU Officer Cadet Anya Piotrowicz is studying to become an Emergency Care Assistant – paramedic – at Oxford Brookes after which she’ll be on the front-line of care and medical provision.
As well as preparing for online exams and completing online portfolios, she’s continuing revision for her C1 driving test (theory and practical) which will allow her to drive ambulances and volunteering with patient transport, moving ill and recovered COVID patients between their homes and hospitals or vice versa.
Midshipman Benjamin Fernando
Midshipman Benjamin Fernando, a PhD student on Environmental Research at the University of Oxford, heads a 60-strong team of volunteers who brief the Shadow Cabinet on the latest virus research.
“Basically, we summarise the content of all published medical papers on COVID and synthesise pertinent policy questions,” Benjamin explained.
Those briefings are received by around 200 MPs and Peers, as well as local councillors, MSPs and COVID researchers.
The post-grad student also sits on the Faculty Board for Oxford’s Science and Engineering departments, helping to draw up the policies which will reduce the impact of the pandemic on students, including organising online social events for isolated/vulnerable students and lobbying for extra funding for students in need.
Naval Cadet Monika Pura Kalleshappa
Originally from Bangalore in India, the 22-year-old came to Liverpool to study advanced aerospace engineering at its university, where she also signed on for the local University Royal Naval Unit.
Unable to work over the Easter break or return to her family in India due to the pandemic, Monika decided to “play an active role here in the UK”, volunteering to help in care homes, fully aware of the risks given the high rate of infection.
“I felt it was the right opportunity to serve the country even though I knew many vulnerable people in care homes had already tested positive for COVID-19 and were dying,” the student said. “I didn’t want to be just sitting at home feeling underutilised, so I volunteered.”
Her volunteering in Liverpool’s care homes has been rewarding and heart-rending in equal measure.
“Rather than considering COVID-19 as negatively impacting my life, I consider it as God giving me a chance to serve people during an unexpected and unprecedented time,” Monika explains.
“I have seen so many people infected whilst working – the people we care for and the carers have all been contracting the illness. I’ve experienced people showing symptoms and passing away within a week.
“I have found it particularly heartbreaking losing people who I have grown so close to; people who I have taken care of, listened to their stories and experienced their kindness and then helplessly watch them die.”
With her family several thousand miles away, the student knows that should she too fall victim to the virus – despite the proper PPE and taking every conceivable precaution – she would not be able to see her loved ones in person, a thought which drives her actions helping others.
Naval Cadet Ciaran Finn
The 22-year-old from Altrincham, who serves with Liverpool’s University Royal Naval Unit, has worked at the temporary hospital – set up specifically to deal with the pandemic in the North West – since it opened last month.
He is now juggling his degree in Business Studies with Spanish and Portuguese at Liverpool with providing life-saving care in the temporary 750-bed facility established in Manchester’s G-MEX centre – more used to hosting political party conferences, trade fairs, TV shows and concerts than patients.
Ciaran had been working as a carer in a nursing home, where he saw the effects of the virus, and put his name forward to work at the new NHS facility.
He spends all his working day in PPE, assisting with medical procedures and recording observations, as well as supporting and helping patients – many seriously ill – as best he can. At times, it has been very difficult.
“I got on well with one elderly patient, who unfortunately died. It was upsetting, but the fact that his family couldn’t come and visit him was heart-breaking. We all held his hand and comforted him as much as we could during his death, which I hope is comforting for his family to know that he didn’t die alone and was surrounded by people who enjoyed his company and admired him,” said Finn.
This article appears courtesy of Royal Navy News.
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