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'Once a nurse, always a nurse': 20,000 former UK medics return to battle coronavirus

“My uniform is clean, my shoes are polished and I am ready to go back.”

LONDON -- After a long and successful 39-year career as a nurse working for Britain’s National Health Service, Bev Vaughan never thought that she would be dusting off her uniform after she retired in 2016.

“My uniform is clean, my shoes are polished and I am ready to go back,” said Vaughan.

“They want me to work in what is called the COVID Silver Command. It is a hub that helps the nurses across the organization by fielding phone calls, emails, a bit of running around taking supplies here, there and everywhere.”

Vaughan added that she is fortunate to be in a position that allows her to return to work and mobilize so quickly to help combat the spread of coronavirus while supporting the system that she dedicated her life to.

“Once you are a nurse, you are always a nurse,” said Vaughan. “You work in a very close-knit community. I just feel really privileged to be in a position where I am still registered as a nurse so I am in a position where I can fairly quickly go back.”

But in spite of all of her experience, Vaughan admits that she is anxious about going back.

“There will be some anxiety. I think every first day at work is a difficult time. In many ways, even though I am anxious, I am looking forward to making my contribution.”

According to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, she isn’t the only one either.

Johnson posted a video while in self-isolation to social media on Sunday night thanking all of the returning NHS workers and volunteers around the country who are giving up their own time – and potentially putting themselves in harm’s way – to help support the NHS.

“Thank you, by the way, to everybody who is now coming back into the NHS in such huge numbers,” said Johnson. “Just this evening I can tell you we have 20,000 NHS staff coming back to the colors, doctors and nurses, it is the most amazing thing and that is, of course, in addition to the 750,000 members of the public who have volunteered to help us get through this crisis.”

For Vaughan and the other 20,000 medics returning to work, the timing couldn’t be more crucial.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, told the Press Association on Monday that an estimated 25% of doctors are currently off work in the U.K. due to either having contracted coronavirus themselves or because a family member or a person they live with has had to isolate after exhibiting symptoms.

Said Goddard: “At the moment, we think it’s more doctors self-isolating with family members, though there are some off sick themselves. This is really impacting a lot in emergency departments and London is in a much worse position than elsewhere at the moment, but it will come to other places.”

But for Vaughan, and for the thousands of other people like her, it is about a sense of duty to the public during a national crisis.

“We haven’t quite hit the mushroom yet but, trust me, it’s coming,” warned Vaughan. “I think there are more nurses who will probably listen to me and say ‘yes, I can go back.’ Once you are a nurse, you are always a nurse.”

Matt Graveling contributed to this report.