ICU staff turn to sport to promote fitness and wellbeing during pandemic

MANY Bradford hospital staff have faced the most challenging period of their lives while doing all they can to deliver the highest standards of care to our COVID-19 patients.

But, in response, staff members from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Bradford Royal Infirmary, part of Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, are using the power of sport to help cut stress levels and cement teamwork throughout the pandemic.

Around 30 ICU nurses and doctors now also come together outside the hospital to play netball, run and walk – and take on the occasional physical challenge – in a bid to ease the pressure they face on a daily basis and boost their mental health.

They include Sister Sian Priestley, who says she has benefited enormously from getting active.

“A group of staff from ICU are now taking part in regular, competitive sport,” said Sian, “after the desire to become fitter to better cope with the threat of the virus led to the enlargement of the unit’s netball team, the formation of new running and walking groups, and some physical challenges too.

“The netball team had been going for a couple of years, but then stopped when COVID began. But when we came out of the first lockdown I managed to get two coaches to take us out one day a week in two separate groups of six to get us fitter.

Mixed-sex teams

“And, since restrictions have eased, we’ve been playing twice a week in local netball leagues. Our mixed-sex team plays on a Monday night, and we also run a women-only team called ‘Shock Advised’ – after the warning you get on a defibrillator – on a Thursday. Most of our recent new starters have already joined the netball club.”

ICU staff have also come together to form their own ad-hoc running club.

“The socially-distanced running club started when COVID started,” Sian added. “We opened up Ward 10 at Bradford Royal Infirmary for COVID patients and staff were frightened. But I think we all thought we had a better chance if we could get fitter.

“There’s now a group of us in the club who run regularly. A small group of us even ran 100 miles each in 28 days in February for charity. That was hard! It was dark and snowy, but we raised over £500.

“Some of us are also set to run the Leeds Rhinos’ 10K in September, and may look at doing the Virtual London Marathon next year.

Sit-up challenge

“ICU nurse Lisa Smith also set up a sit-up challenge in March which involved doing 100 sit-ups a day. That wasn’t much fun! And we walk before and after work two-or-three times a week – anything to get people out.”

Sian said playing sport and keeping active had had a positive effect on staff fitness and mental health.

“We’ve had a lot of people with anxiety and stress caused by COVID. It has been very difficult. But people have mentioned that getting out and doing something has helped. When we were in full lockdown, we were also doing something other than simply coming to work and going home.

“Some of the challenges and activities have also become a little bit competitive, as some of us are on Strava and can see what other people have done.

“And they give you a connection with others, so away from work you feel like you are not on your own.

“Getting active has really helped us cope with the stress of the current situation and eased the pressure on us all.”