A DEVOTED nurse who has worked at Inverclyde Royal for almost 30 years has given an insight into life on the frontline of the coronavirus crisis.

Ann Gray, senior charge nurse in the hospital's emergency department, was due to go on holiday to Bahrain with friends just as COVID hit.

Instead of taking the time off, she returned to work to support her anxious colleagues - and says that the help they gave her in return spurred her on in her demanding role.

At the start of the pandemic, Ann was devastated to learn that a colleague was seriously ill with the deadly virus and had been admitted to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

The harrowing news set the tone for what was ahead - but Ann was determined that she and her colleagues would face their fears and do everything they could for patients.

Ann, 52, from Hilltop in Gourock, said: "I can still remember the text I received from her telling me she was on the way to hospital.

"It's going to be a long road to recovery for her now.

"Having to tell the staff that she had been admitted and was very ill with COVID was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

"It brought it home that we were all in this together and that it could have been any one of us.

"It's been challenging and frightening - it's fear of the unknown.

"It's been the biggest challenge I've ever experienced at work."

When COVID restrictions were first introduced, Ann worked with consultants to split the department into two to help with social distancing.

To accommodate the staffing needed across the two areas, colleagues from day surgery were redeployed and helped out.

According to Ann, getting to know staff from other departments highlighted the strong team spirit at IRH.

She said: "At the start, we watched every news item and saw everything that was going on in Italy and thought that would be us.

"I would wake up at two in the morning thinking 'have I done enough to help?'

"It's been great to have support from the day surgery team. We're now on first name terms with people who we would normally just smile at and say 'hello' to.

"I'm so impressed by how people stepped up to it."

In Ann's role as senior charge nurse, she has to look after a team of nearly 30 staff as well as caring for patients.

Ensuring new and junior members of staff were coping with harrowing situations has been a big part of her role since the end of March.

Ann added: "We have a WhatsApp group and we've made it clear that if anyone wants to talk, they can.

"In the few days after someone has passed away, I send members of staff a wee message to ask if they want to have a chat.

"It's so important to give staff feedback and to tell them that they did really well. "

Ann's granddaughter Ada arrived on 17 March but due to lockdown restrictions, the devoted gran has yet to hold the wee one.

The family were able to see the tot through the window and have had a few garden visits since - but Ann can't wait for that first cuddle.

She says the number of patients in the emergency department actually decreased during the crisis but is now on the way back up.

She added: "We didn't have as many patients at the start of the pandemic but the ones we did have were very sick.

"It's a completely different experience for patients now - we're in our PPE and they can't see us properly.

"Nurses are used to being emotive and giving patients a cuddle but we can't do that now.

"I'm not sure that we will ever get back to that."

Having gone through a rollercoaster three months, Ann says she's sure that whatever is thrown at the team now they will deal with it.

She told the Tele: "We're not as tense now as we were at the start.

"We obviously have worries about a second wave but we know what we dealt with and know that we can work together to face it if it happens again.

"We will have precautionary measures in place for a long time to come.

"My colleagues have definitely made it much easier for me to come to work every day.

"I'm very proud to be part of such a great team."