They are the heroes in scrubs who have kept the NHS running through the coronavirus pandemic.

Nurses and midwives have worked round-the-clock shifts since the pandemic began to ensure that people still get life-saving care.

They might now be working in sweaty personal protective equipment – masks, gowns and sometimes full-length visors – but the basics of the job remain the same.

Symone Merrington, 46, has worked as a midwife in Swindon since 1996, when she was one of the first direct-entry midwives to train at the Princess Margaret Hospital.

Accident and emergency department nurse Philmore James, 47, worked in Trinidad & Tobago until moving to the UK last year to work at Great Western Hospital.

Speaking in the same week as International Nurses’ Day – marked on Tuesday, the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth – Symone said: “Babies are still being born. Our job hasn’t changed. We’re wearing PPE.”

Changes to rules on who can and can’t visit the hospital mean that big family visits to the maternity unit are a thing of the past – at least for now. Only the birth partner, usually the woman’s partner, is allowed into the unit.

“There is always technology. There’s FaceTime and Skype,” Symone said. “Actually, I think it’s quite nice for mums to go home and not have the pressure of visitors.”

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Philmore and Symone work at Great Western Hospital in Swindon

Philmore and his colleagues in A&E are wearing more protective equipment than they did before the pandemic. He said people were more anxious about coming to the emergency department – reflected in the drop in the number of patients coming through the front door.

“They’re a bit more careful, because they’re not too certain whether Covid is there,” he said.

“We’ve had to take on an additional role of really comforting these people, listening to their anxiety they come with.

“We know Covid is there. We have some fears and apprehensions, but we still have to do it.”

A nurse since the early 2000s, Philmore says he has always been interested in working in A&E. “I’m in love with trauma. I love the adrenaline rush. My days are never the same. Each day’s different. You don’t know what to expect.”

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Philmore in his nurse's uniform

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...and Philmore in his PPE

Tobago-born Philmore was hired by an agency and moved to Swindon last year, initially working on the wards before moving to A&E. The agency asked him where he would like to work and, not knowing the UK, said anywhere. A recruiter suggested he might like Swindon as it was near the sea – although he is yet to find a beach.

He jokes that his tea-making skills have improved dramatically since moving to the UK.

While he enjoys the fast-paced life in A&E, it is a calmer moment that sticks in his mind. “A lady came in after she sustained a fall. She felt as though she was being silly and stupid by falling at such an old age. She had just been going for a walk and tripped.

“I encouraged her – no, that doesn’t make you stupid, that makes you human. I remember those words specifically.

“A few weeks after the department received an email from her thanking the nurse. It was a nice moment.”

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Symone with her mask and goggles on

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...and how she's normally seen!

Symone fell into midwifery after a chat with her sister Becky, who is six years her senior. She had finished her A-levels and was casting around for something to do.

She said: “I’ve always been fascinated by pregnancy. My sister was a nurse then a midwife. She’d just had a baby and we sat down and had a conversation. I didn’t realise at the time you didn’t have to be a nurse to be a midwife.”

She was one of the first direct entry midwives to be posted to the Princess Margaret Hospital in Old Town – in the mid-1990s. She’s worked in Swindon ever since.

“Every day is different. You don’t know what you’re walking into. You get to work with and meet people from all walks of life.

“Every birth is amazing. It’s all so special. You can’t put it into words, really, that feeling you get when you witness that.

“I think it’s really special if you get to look after a friend or a colleague. You get to see the babies grow up.”

Both Symone and Philmore marked International Nurses’ Day on Tuesday. Philmore said he and his colleagues would never let it pass unnoticed.

He said: “Nursing is a marvellous profession to be in and I’m enjoying practising in the UK. I think GWH is a great place to be. It’s highly supportive, especially for international nurses.”

Asked what she would say to youngsters tempted by a career in midwifery, Symone said: “I would say go for it. It’s the best job in the world. It’s hard work.” Being a man was no bar to working on the maternity unit, with some mums even preferring a male midwife.

Deputy chief nurse TANIA CURRIE explains why she's still glad to be a nurse - almost four decades after she trained

“I have been a nurse for about 37 years, after starting my training in 1983. As a child, my mum wanted me to become a nurse and I am so glad that I did and am proud to have served the NHS for so many years – and now in my role as deputy chief nurse at Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

“I started my career at The Bristol Royal Infirmary and then moved the Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon as an Enrolled Nurse working on an Orthopaedic ward. When the hospital moved to the Great Western in 2002, I moved with it; starting as a Senior Sister in the Orthopaedic and Fracture Clinic and working my way up to my current role.

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Tania Currie

“It was so important to me that we are celebrating the Year of the Nurse and Midwife this year and, in particular, International Nurses day today. The Covid-19 pandemic has been a really challenging time for us to navigate, and staff have been working over and above to keep providing quality care to all of our patients despite having to work under difficult circumstances, sometimes in new or unknown areas.

“I feel so proud to be a nurse and am so grateful to all of our staff – in the acute hospital, out in the community and in primary care - for their hard-work and dedication not just in the last few weeks, but always.”