'It's quite scary but it's a privilege' - Wales players share their NHS experiences

By Chloe DellBBC Sport Wales
Wales back-row Abbie Fleming is part of the on-call rota at Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend
Wales back-row Abbie Fleming is part of the on-call rota at Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend

Wales' women rugby players are doing their bit for the NHS in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, with four internationals either already on duty or set to be involved in various roles.

Centre Megan Webb is working as a healthcare assistant, back-row Abbie Flemming a physiotherapist, Angharad de Smet a physiotherapist technician and her fellow wing Paige Randall is waiting to be placed as a healthcare assistant.

Ospreys duo Webb and De Smet and Cardiff Blues players Fleming and Randall all made their Wales debuts last autumn.

Megan Webb

Wales centre Megan Webb is is working for the NHS as a healthcare assistant
Wales centre Megan Webb is is working for the NHS as a healthcare assistant

Webb is a first-year nursing student at the University of South Wales and after applying to be on the nursing bank has started work as a healthcare assistant.

The 19-year-old, who made her debut for Wales against Spain in November 2019, has recently started working at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend.

Although not currently working on a Covid-19 ward, Webb is providing essential care in a different ward which has freed up other staff members to work on the front line.

"There's options to go onto the Covid ward but I want to improve my skills before I go onto a Covid ward, because I'm still a first year," she told BBC Sport Wales.

"It is quite scary but people have to do it at the end of the day. I think it is a bit of a risk but it's one worth taking to help other people recover.

"It's helping where possible because it's not only the Covid wards that are struggling, it's all other wards and hospitals as well.

"They've had to shuffle everyone round to have the right people in the right places, so hopefully more experienced nurses who are more confident will go into those roles."

As a healthcare assistant Webb is helping more elderly patients who need assistance with their personal care. The Ospreys player says it is a difficult time to be a patient in hospitals because of the restrictions and social distancing.

"I think it's quite eerie in the hospital, patients aren't allowed to have any visitors, it feels quite gloomy," she said.

"It's key to keep everyone less anxious, especially with the patients that are already feeling a bit down and a bit scared."

Webb made her Six Nations debut against France in February 2020 and has been enjoying training as a break from the intensity of working in the hospital.

"It's quite nice actually, it takes your mind off things going on. I've been going down to the fields doing sprints and then practicing long distance running a bit more because I'm not that fond of long distance running!" Webb said.

"I'm keeping skills up as well, so I think its quite nice in a way to break up the day a bit."

Webb, although early in her rugby career, has a strong rugby pedigree, counting Wales and Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb and Leicester Tigers back-row Tommy Reffell as first cousins, both of whom shared their experience and knowledge before the Six Nations.

"They both said keep disciplined throughout it and keep focused," she added.

"It's a bit different for me because it's their job full-time but I still have to do my 12-hour shift in between training, so it's quite hard to recover in time for games but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience."

Paige Randall

Paige Randall is ready to take her place as a healthcare assistant
Paige Randall is ready to take her place as a healthcare assistant

Randall is in her third year of a nursing degree at Cardiff University and only started playing rugby with her local team, Deri Diamonds, a few seasons ago.

The 24-year-old is anxious to get started as a healthcare assistant and begin work on the Covid wards.

Randall is not currently on placement and was looking into volunteering for the health service when she was contacted to apply to work on NHS bank as a healthcare assistant.

"As soon as the interview was done I was accepted in, so I'm just waiting to be placed," she said. "They'll place as soon as they can because they're that desperate.

"My family are nervous about it, they're terrified because I said to them I'm going straight on the front line.

"I insisted to do that when they interviewed me. I said I want to go on the front line and when I told my parents my mother wasn't very happy. They're worried but proud as well.

"I just want to help in any way I can really, the situation we're going through at the minute is awful.

"I'm checking my emails everyday, I'm just sitting in my house doing nothing feeling useless when other people are risking their lives."

Like many athletes, the Cardiff Blues player is facing the challenge of maintaining a regular training regime.

"I'm just out in my garden, we've been given home workouts to follow and do that everyday because it is going to be affecting our fitness, we work so hard through all these months for the Six Nations and then from just doing nothing it's just going to be harder for us to get back into it," she said.

Venues around Wales are being used as field hospitals, including the Principality Stadium and also the Vale Resort which both the men's and women's teams use as a training base.

The Vale will have room for 255 patients, spread across eight wards, when it opens on 27 April.

"I just can't believe how bad it's got and the struggles in hospitals," Randall added. "Two months ago I was training at the Vale for Wales and a month later it's a hospital, so I'll probably be working there."

Angharad de Smet

Ospreys and Wales wing Angharad de Smet is working as a physiotherapist technician at Morriston Hospital
Angharad de Smet is working as a physiotherapist technician at Morriston Hospital

De Smet is working as a physiotherapist technician at Morriston Hospital in Swansea, assisting people to move out of hospital to make room for those who are seriously ill with Covid-19.

The 23-year-old is working on wards and with patients with suspected and confirmed cases of Covid-19.

"Hospitals are not the place you want to be at the moment unless you have to be there, because the safest place for you is in your own house," she said.

"It's quite scary but it's a privilege at the same time, because I know I'm helping people and helping them when they're at their worst.

"So if we can have just that small impact of improving their mobility while they're in hospital and then insuring they go home and they're safe at home, then it makes me proud to do what I do."

The Cardiff Blues wing from Swansea is keeping up training but having to get creative like the rest of the world.

"We've got a lot of home work-outs, just being adaptable, using a lot of home equipment that you wouldn't necessarily use, like chairs, the sofa for some squats, water bottles for some weights," she said.

"You have to be really inventive but then also use partners and family members, squats with them on your shoulders, get some weight in there.

"Even with dogs you can take them out for a run and that gives you a bit of motivation to run faster, because they're doing circles round you!"

De Smet admits there are frustrating moments, especially when people flout the government's coronavirus guidelines.

"It's very frustrating especially working on the front line and then on your way home you're seeing people who aren't adhering to the rules, they're not staying at home and they're not social distancing," she said.

"If they saw what happened to people with the disease then they wouldn't be doing it."

Abbie Fleming

Cardiff Blues back-row Abbie Fleming made her Wales debut in November 2019 against Spain
Cardiff Blues back-row Abbie Fleming made her Wales debut in November 2019 against Spain

Cardiff Blues back-row Fleming's main role is as a community physiotherapist, but is also part of the on-call rota at Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend.

This can involve going to see patients on the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), assessing patients from a respiratory function level and delivering suitable treatments.

"It is quite a scary time but I think it's our job role, I think all of us who work in the NHS we love our jobs and we do it because we want to care for people," said the 24-year-old.

"We want to make a difference to their lives, obviously we run the risk everyday of going into work and coming home and potentially run the risk with our families, but at the end of the day that's our job and that's what we signed up to do."

Fleming has also set up a home gym to try and keep up fitness but admits it is the lack of the social aspect of playing a team sport that is difficult.

"Being socially isolated from a socially involved sport is extremely difficult but I think that's where maintaining our own mental health comes into play," she said.

"I personally tend to try and take out a lot of time for myself. I'm doing a lot more yoga than I used to to try and keep on top of that, making sure I talk to a lot of people, making sure that everybody's okay, because I think that's really important, because obviously people are going to respond very differently to not playing the game."

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