The last 12-18 months have been difficult for a lot of us, but for many NHS and key workers it’s been both physically and emotionally tough in lots of ways.

Sarah is a doctor – working in the thick of it treating patients with Covid-19 at Northwick Park in Harrow. She lives on the Roundwood Estate in Brent and has been a Catalyst customer for most of her life.

‘I was born in Manchester and moved to the Roundwood Estate in Brent, with my parents in 1986. I lived with my parents until I was 18, when I moved into my own home with Catalyst, so I know the area well. It’s very multi-cultural, with lots of green space and community spirit. It’s good for commuting into London too.’

Sarah’s mum worked as a youth worker and her dad ran a local community centre. This inspired Sarah to work as a youth worker too, but she had always wanted to do something scientific, ‘Maybe it was growing up watching medical dramas like ER, but I decided after I finished my science degree that I wanted to go into medicine. I studied at Bart’s and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry and I’m now an Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Registrar at West Middlesex University Hospital.

‘When the first national lockdown started in March 2020, I was working in Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow and my role in the infectious diseases team quickly changed. We’d been testing people in the local community who’d come back from abroad for Covid-19, but we were now seeing more patients admitted to hospital with the virus, who had no travel history.’

Sarah has been a doctor for almost eight years, but she says it still hadn’t prepared her for the devastation that Covid-19 would cause, ‘The hospital soon became full. It went from having a few Covid-19 inpatients, to hundreds. We’d heard about Covid-19 from China and Italy, but looking back we were quite naïve about how bad it would be. At this point there weren’t any clear guidelines on how to treat Covid-19 and we weren’t sure what drugs worked. We were mainly giving people as much oxygen and support as possible and hoping they’d get better.

‘The hardest thing during the first wave, was treating people from my local area. I had to phone patient’s relatives to explain what was happening and tell them they couldn’t visit. It’s one of the things you’re not necessarily prepared for – making sure people have a good death, speaking to families and consoling them remotely.’

One thing that helped Sarah and her colleagues was the support they received from the local community; she says,

The local community were amazing. People would bring us food and care packages – it was reassuring to know people were thinking of you.

‘We came out the first wave a bit shelled shocked, I think everyone who had been working on the frontline needed time to grieve and reflect. When the second wave hit at the end of December 2020, it was hard.  The only thing that made it better was that we knew more about treating Covid-19 and that the vaccine was on the way.

As part of her role as an Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Registrar Sarah’s team took part in medical trials to help tackle Covid-19, ‘Our hospital decided to take part in the RECOVERY trial. I’ve been involved since September 2020, helping recruit patients infected by Covid-19 to test which drugs and treatments work. This was part of a large trial happening across the whole of the UK, where thousands of patients were helping us uncover what worked best in the fight against Covid-19.

Sarah was also involved in the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine trial, ‘The trial involved monitoring people at our site, who’d been given the vaccine to check for any symptoms and reactions. I know there is some anxiety around taking the vaccine, but I’d encourage anyone who is unsure to get vaccinated.’

For Sarah it now feels like a time to reflect but also start tentatively planning for the future, ‘It does feel easier now, with the number of Covid-19 cases dropping. I moved off the wards in March this year into a more lab-based role. I didn’t realise how tired I’d been until I moved role.

‘One thing I’ve missed over the last year is the volunteering work I do in my local community. There aren’t many people from my background and who look like me working in medicine, so I’m involved in a mentoring programme where I talk to children about how I got into medicine. I want to show them whatever the barriers if I can do it, there’s no reason why they can’t either.

‘I’m looking forward to starting this up again and I’m also planning to hopefully do some more travelling again in the future too. One county that I’d love to go to is Senegal, so I’m looking forward to booking that as my next travel destination when I can.’