Leona Harris Biography — Wiki
After everything, she’s been through, if anyone deserves a happy Christmas it is Leona Harris. As a frontline nurse on a Covid ward in Lancashire since the start of the pandemic, she has spent the past year working grueling 14-hour shifts, tightly swaddled in a stifling gown, mask and visor.
Not that it has always protected her. After months of exposure to the virus, she finally became infected, and was laid up for weeks with pneumonia — and that’s about the only the rest she’s had all year.
Everything You Need To Know About Leona Harris
For during what precious free time she’s had, Leona Harris — distressed by her patients’ forced isolation — has raised close to £100,000 to buy and distribute iPads to hospitals and care homes so the sick and lonely could communicate with their families over a video call.
In some cases, tablets purchased through her efforts gave the dying a final chance to see and speak with loved ones. So it’s hardly surprising that Leona was recently named a finalist for the prestigious Florence Nightingale Nurse of the Year award, while TV presenter Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen introduced her as a ‘Corona hero’ and ‘the angel of the North’ when she was invited to switch on Blackpool’s annual lights festival.
To top it off, last month Leona and her husband, Nick, were invited to be guests at the recording of this year’s Royal Variety Performance. Fortunately for Leona, who was still exhausted after being infected, the show was virtual and she and Nick appeared from their home in Rossendale, Lancashire.
After a year of such unbridled success, you could be forgiven for thinking that Leona will look back on this year as a job well done. However, it is far more likely that Leona will spend the final weeks of 2020 torturing herself over whether her 24-year career is about to come to a ruinous end.
For in an act that she feels is vindictive, her previous employer, the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, has referred her for investigation by nursing’s professional watchdog.
Her crime? Falling foul of a bureaucratic glitch during an incident in which she saved a patient’s life almost four years ago. Astonishingly, the Trust referred the case to the NMC at the beginning of March, but the NMC did not inform her until October 29 because it had decided the NHS needed her to work through the first months of the pandemic.
The incident that triggered the NMC referral goes back to the early hours of February 23, 2017, when Leona, a sister with ten years’ experience in A&E, was asked to accompany a woman in danger of bleeding out after a miscarriage from the Royal Blackburn hospital to Burnley General, where she was to have surgery.
The drama of the blue-light dash was made all the more intense by the violent storm buffeting the ambulance with gusts that topped 100mph. But Leona was chosen for a simple reason — highly respected and with an unblemished record, she was qualified to give blood transfusions, even in difficult conditions such as this.
As they neared Burnley, Leona noticed that the blood being transfused to the patient was about to run out.
Fortunately, there were two more bags, cross-matched to the patient’s blood type, inside the vehicle. But they were close to their strict ‘use by’ time — they become unusable just a few hours after leaving storage.
‘The color had drained from her face. When you’ve been doing my job for a long time, you know when someone’s not well. You just know,’ Leona says.
And so, with the vehicle lurching from side to side, she changed the transfusion bag. On arrival at Burnley, the patient had to be given yet more blood — but after a successful operation, her hemorrhage was controlled and she returned home the next day.
By any normal measure, such a result would be considered a resounding success. But in this tale of what to Leona and her family looks like bureaucracy and heavy-handedness, that was never going to be the outcome.
What we know so far
For in the rush to get the woman to safety, crucial paperwork — the prescription for the blood — had been left behind in Blackburn.
Leona Harris knew this and was aware that changing the bag without it meant she was breaking rules. But, she says: ‘This was a total emergency. My job was to get her from A to B, alive. And I did.’
Her bosses at Blackburn didn’t see it that way, and there followed a long and continuing legal saga.
First, she was investigated by the Trust and told to stay off work for six months. In August 2018, an internal tribunal ruled that she should be given a written warning — though there was no suggestion she was ‘unfit to practice’.
She appealed this decision but, months later, lost.
Meanwhile, she had also submitted a formal grievance, claiming that treatment amounted to bullying. At the end of 2017, she was told this too had been rejected.
Afterward, she was told she was welcome to return to work but, if she wished to remain a sister, she would have to do a desk job. Finally, feeling that she could no longer work with such a cloud over her work, Leona resigned.
As is standard procedure, the Trust there asked for a reference from Blackburn.
Dated March 2018, it was supplied by a senior manager in the same nursing department that has now referred Leona to the NMC, the East Lancs NHS Trust.
It mentioned that she had been ‘required to undertake some development in relation to blood transfusion procedures’, but added: ‘Leona is a capable nurse and her clinical skills and patient care are those appropriate for a band 6 [senior] nurse.’
She was, it added, fully capable of doing the job for which she was being considered, and East Lancs ‘would re-employ Leona in a similar role’ if she were to apply. Again, there was not the slightest hint she might be ‘unfit to practice’.
Leona Harris, desperate to clear her name, took the Trust to an Employment Tribunal, claiming constructive dismissal — where an employee resigns as a result of the employer creating a hostile workplace. After a ten-day hearing last year, a judge ruled against her, but she has lodged an appeal.
A few weeks after she lodged her appeal, the East Lancs Trust referred her to the NMC. The reason it gave was that at the tribunal hearing, Leona had stated under oath that faced with another case like the patient in the ambulance, she would take the same action.
According to the Trust, this alone meant ‘her fitness to practice [sic] is impaired’ — despite acknowledging: ‘There was no patient harm. The patient was discharged home the next day.’
For months, Leona remained blissfully unaware of all this and threw herself into trying to save Covid patients. It was, she admits, quite tough: ‘I dealt with a lot of poorly patients. But there were positives, too. A lot of sick people got better. Covid has brought the best out of many of us. We all did what we could.’
Few as much as Leona. Before she started her iPad campaign, when there were still critical shortages of PPE, she talked to staff at a school in nearby Haslingden and arranged for its students to start making visors for hospitals.
She also persuaded local firms to donate vast quantities of moisturizer, so that nurses could soothe the cracked, dry hands they suffered from constantly having to wash them.
Then, one day in April, a mother aged 36 who had terminal cancer had to be moved to a hospice and, somehow, lost her phone on the way. With visiting forbidden, she had no means of communicating with her family. Leona Harris mentioned her plight to a neighbor, who gave her an old, cracked iPad: ‘I took it to the hospice. The lady didn’t survive very long. But she was able to talk to her kids again — and say goodbye.’
The next day, the fundraising effort began. Numerous regional media interviews followed.