Tom Nield: The EFL referee battling coronavirus on the NHS frontline
By Bryan Swanson, Chief Reporter
Last Updated: 09/04/20 8:48am
An EFL referee has spoken about his "gruelling" work as an emergency nurse during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tom Nield, a referee in League One and League Two, is a senior nurse/matron with the Acute & Emergency Service at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust.
In a wide-ranging interview on Sky Sports News, Nield has spoken about:
- "Exhausting" work during national emergency
- "It's put football into perspective"
- Positivity from staff in hospital wards
- "Stay at home" message to fans
- "We will get back to the game we love"
"It's challenging, the frontline is gruelling," says Nield, speaking during his lunch break in Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.
"I think there are different levels of intensity in different areas. Ultimately whether you're working in A&E, or intensive care, or in some of the Covid-designated wards, it's intense. It's long hours, we're wearing the PPE [personal protective equipment] for long amounts of time and that can be tiring as well.
"It's just mentally and physically really tough. It's completely new for us and we're having to adapt and learn as we go along. It changes so quickly, and so regularly, with updates nationally or locally. Trying to keep up with that is also difficult.
"What we're seeing on a daily basis is a lot of poorly patients, and critically unwell patients that are developing very acute respiratory symptoms, and very quickly.
"We've got to consider there's no visiting at the moment. Only in exceptional circumstances are visitors permitted. That's really difficult to manage, to make sure that we're looking after relatives, so that we're keeping them up to date with the progress of patients. We're looking at innovative ways around that, to ensure people can stay in contact with their loved ones.
"Ultimately, for us on the front line, it does take its toll. We have to remain strong, we have to remain resilient and we are doing. We're keeping morale high. We're trying to do as much as we can, for as many as we can."
Nield was appointed a National List referee in 2018 and he has refereed 35 games this season, including League One leaders Coventry's defeat at Shrewsbury and Portsmouth's FA Cup win against Altrincham.
But, last month, he asked the Professional Game Match Officials Limited [PGMOL] to allow him to make a temporary permanent switch to his NHS role, until it is safe to return as a part-time referee.
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He now works 8-10 hours a day, 5-6 days a week, as a senior nurse/matron for the acute assessment areas in the hospital.
"On March 7, I refereed Walsall against Exeter and it was just emerging; things were starting to hot up a bit within the NHS at that time," he explains. "I received my appointment for my next game, which was Leyton Orient against Plymouth on March 17.
"Our appointments come out at 4pm on a Monday. I think I made a call to Mike Jones [PGMOL National Group Director] on the Tuesday, or Wednesday and said, 'Mike, I don't think I'm going to be able to fulfil this fixture, things are changing at work. I'm needed there'.
"It's about trying to protect other people, and colleagues as well, and minimise my contact with them. I took the decision to remove myself off games, based on PGMOL advice. They were really great and supportive about it. That Friday, March 13, the decision was taken to suspend all professional football anyway. It was the right time. Around that week, I realised that this was going to get bad."
Success and positivity: "Phenomenal"
Nield says, despite the daily difficulties, his team are maintaining a positive outlook.
"The positivity from the staff, from the chief executive right through the organisation, is phenomenal," he smiles. "The chief nurse was going around yesterday giving crème eggs as the Easter bunny! There are loads of stuff we're doing to remain positive.
"There are loads of success stories as well, many of the patients are being discharged from the hospital to home.
"I've always had a desire to help people, and I've always had a desire to do everything that I can for those that are vulnerable and in need. I feel, from a very early age, I kind of knew that was going to be a career choice of mine, initially. At the moment I've never been more proud of what I do. I know all my colleagues would join me in saying that.
"It's particularly difficult for me because my girlfriend also works in a neighbouring trust. She works in A&E, so she's acutely involved in this as well. I think it's about trying to switch off when you go away from work.
"The importance of downtime, it's so important to try and switch off from this. The main thing is to remain positive, and that's what we're saying. We've banned any negativity, anything like that in the department. We've been really clear with all our staff. We must remain positive; we have to keep battling through this. We will overcome it."
Support in football: "Incredible"
Nield has praised Premier League referees Anthony Taylor and Michael Oliver, who have become NHS volunteers during the crisis.
He says he cannot wait to return to life as a part-time referee but understands that protecting public health must remain the number 1 priority.
"The sooner we can get back, the better," he says. "In the grand scheme of things, it's put football into perspective. It's not a priority at the moment. It's really pleasing to see colleagues such as Anthony Taylor and Michael Oliver volunteering to support the NHS in these times. It really is incredible to see everyone coming together. I'm missing it dreadfully and I can't wait for the season to get back started.
"I've had regular contact with the national group director, every week, checking in and seeing how we're doing. I guess he probably leaves my call until the end, because it's a bit longer than other people!
"They've been great, the coaching teams have been supporting us. I've had numerous emails and messages from colleagues within the PGMOL, thanking me for what we're doing in the NHS, and supporting me."
Message to fans: "Stay at home"
Nield has urged everybody to stay at home, with a national lockdown expected to extend beyond the Easter weekend.
"This is a marathon, it's not a sprint," he warns. "We want everyone to be at the end with us, so we need to do everything we can to support and engage with staff and just listen. There are times when staff are, quite rightly, going to be upset and we just need to listen.
"Anyone that's planning on popping anywhere, don't pop anywhere [non-essential]. Stay in, stay home. The message is really clear. Stay at home, save lives and protect the NHS.
"To the footballing community, we will get back to the game that we love and miss as soon as people keep up with this. Don't get tired of this now. We're nearly coming to the end of three weeks [lockdown]. It's more important now than ever that we stay really strict with the measures that the government have put in place. It is making a difference. That's all we ask."