An NHS nurse who helped save Boris Johnson’s life while he was in hospital with coronavirus have said the Prime Minister ‘absolutely needed to be there’ and ‘was a patient like any other’ during his time in hospital.
Jenny McGee, 35, was singled out for praise alongside Luis Pitarma, 29, by the Prime Minister after treating him at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London when he was admitted with persistent coronavirus symptoms earlier this month – and was revealed to have ‘stood by his bedside for 48 hours when things could have gone either way.’
Now she and Mr Pitarma have spoken out for the first time about their experiences of caring for the Prime Minister who is currently recuperating at Chequers, his countryside residence, alongside Carrie Symonds, his pregnant fiancee.
Jenny McGee, 35, who has worked for the National Health Service since 2010, has told a New Zealand television station that she was unfazed by the task of caring for Mr Johnson, who received the same care as any other patient and ‘absolutely needed to be there’.
It comes after wild conspiracy theories circulated online that the Prime Minister’s intensive care stint had been somehow manufactured by spin doctors to divert attention from the Government’s failings in its Covid-19 response.
Jenny McGee, 35, (pictured) who has worked for the National Health Service since 2010, was one of the two nurses singled out for praise by Mr Johnson after he left St Thomas’ Hospital in central London
Nurse Luis Pitarma poses for a photo with his sister Sonia Pitarma in London. Mr Pitarma, who revealed he had been inspired by Florence Nightingale, said he was ‘nervous’ after being told he would be caring for the Prime Minister, but said his first conversation with his famous patient put him at ease
Mr Johnson’s video message from inside no 10 after he was discharged from hospital. He singled out Ms McGee for praise during his message
Ms McGee told TVNZ, in an interview which aired on Thursday, her first public remarks since the episode: ‘We are constantly observing, we are constantly monitoring.
‘I’ve worked in intensive care for ten years, I’m a sister, I’ve been in charge for five years. I’ve been in really stressful situations and I was not phased by this.
‘We take it very seriously who comes into intensive care. These patients who come into us. It’s a very scary thing for them so we don’t take it lightly. He absolutely needed to be there.’
She added: ‘All of out intensive care shifts are really tough for whatever reason. There was a lot of media interest about him being in hospital and, to be honest, that was the toughest.
‘As a unit, he was just another patient we were trying to do our best for, so it was business as usual. It was just another day at the office.
Johnson, 55, was taken to Guys and St Thomas’ hospital on April 5 after his symptoms for COVID-19 worsened and he was moved into intensive care the following day, remaining there until April 9.
On being discharged on April 12, Johnson said in a video message, ‘the NHS saved my life, no question’. He named and thanked the nurses who had cared for him, including ‘Jenny from New Zealand’.
When Johnson sent that public message, McGee said in the interview, she was getting ready for her nightshift and a friend texted her the update.
‘My first reaction was that it was a joke,’ she said. ‘I wasn’t expecting it. It was totally out of the blue and it was just shock. I couldn’t believe what he’d said on TV.’
As McGee carried out intensive care duties, she said she and the prime minister ‘spent a lot of time together and we talked away about NZ’, particularly about her home city of Invercargill, which she said he took an interest in.
After shifts caring for the British leader, she said she would get in her car and ‘hear things about Boris Johnson on the news that was very surreal because I thought ‘wow, I’ve been looking after him”.
‘But I really wasn’t fazed by looking after Boris Johnson,’ she added.
Ms McGee, pictured left, has been in the UK for eight years after undertaking her Overseas Education (OE) here then moving to St Thomas’ in central London
Jenny McGee’s family have been full of praise for her efforts in helping patients during the coronavirus pandemic
Johnson wasn’t the only national leader to congratulate McGee, who acknowledged she took longer than planned to respond to a message from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, saying ‘it’s very surreal to have a message from Jacinda. She’s a hero of mine.’
Once the nurse did respond to the New Zealand leader, the two shared ‘a little bit of banter which again was surreal, (and) a couple of emojis’.
She added: ‘I’m so proudly New Zealand and we are a wonderful group of people who just get on with it. The messages are adorable.
‘Kids telling me they want to be a nurse. Families are saying how proud the are. It means so much right now. People will never know how much it means.’
Ward sister Ms McGee moved to the UK eight years ago after doing her intensive care training in Melbourne and brushed off the praise earlier this month, saying she was ‘just doing her job’.
Her mother Caroline spoke to her daughter soon afterwards before she headed back to work another shift, claiming she is just pleased that the NHS is getting the ‘recognition it deserves’.
She told Television New Zealand: ‘It makes us feel exceptionally proud obviously. But she has told us these things over the years and it doesn’t matter what patient she is looking after, this is what she does.’
Mrs McGee added: ‘I just find it incredible that she, any nurses, can do this for 12 hours, sit and watch a patient and twiddle away with all the different knobs and things they do to keep their patients alive, it’s absolutely amazing.’
Her father, Mike McGee, said that she hadn’t told anyone she was treating the PM.
He said: ‘I think over the years she has always told us that her job is one-on-one nursing with very critically ill people and that means she’s there all the time for 12 hours.
‘So once we’d heard that Boris Johnson had gone into intensive care it was obvious that at some stage Jenny would possibly run into him and be giving him the same level of care that she would have given anybody else the week before or next week and we’re really proud of her.’
Ms McGee is pictured centre wearing a scarf with friends
Ms McGee’s proud parents Caroline and Mike said their daughter brushed off any praise and is just please the NHS is getting the recognition it deserves
Rob McGee, Jenny’s brother, also heaped praise on his sister and NHS staff. He told MailOnline soon after Mr Johnson was discharged: ‘She is very humble and is back at work now for another night shift.
‘She said she was just really pleased to see all the hard working people in the NHS be recognised for the amazing work they are doing.’
Mr McGee added: ‘She is just doing her job, and that is how she sees it. This is what she was trained for, helping people who need care. [Medics are] special people.’
Ms McGee has been in the UK for eight years after studying here then moving to St Thomas’ in central London.
She previously worked at the Royal Melbourne Hospital for six years where she did her intensive care training.
Ms McGee attended the Verdon College in Invercargill, and they said the community was ‘so proud’ and that she had wanted to be a nurse since leaving in 2002.
The school said: ‘Our sincerest admiration for the work and dedication of past pupil Jenny McGee who was singled out by UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson for helping him get through his serious illness due to COVID-19.
‘Jenny is described by her past teachers as an absolutely delightful person and someone who had a caring and humble nature.
‘Thanks Jenny for your courage, outstanding work and the example you have provided for everyone at this difficult time. Your old school community is so proud of you!’
Jenny McGee, 35, (left) a ward sister at St Thomas’s Hospital in central London, has been praised for taking care of Boris Johnson – along with her colleague Luis Pitarma, 29 (right)
Eve McSoriley met Ms McGee at choir while they were at college together and the pair have now been friends for more than 20 years.
She said her friend has a fantastic sense of humour, adding that she should ‘have a stand-up show’.
Ms McSoriley said nursing came ‘naturally’ to her friend and that her personal mention by the PM ‘says a lot about her personality and spirit’.
The other nurse mentioned by Mr Johnson – Luis from Portugal, near Porto – has been named as Luis Pitarma, 29, and has been thanked by Portuguese president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
Mr Pitarma, from west London but originally from Aveiro in Portugal, also spoke for the first time today. He said he had also been thanked by Portuguese president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, adding: ‘Apparently I’m a celebrity in Portugal now.’
Mr Pitarma, who has worked at St Thomas’ for nearly four years, said: ‘I was changing into scrubs before my night shift when the matron called me over and told me the Prime Minister was about to come to ICU. I had been chosen to look after him because they were confident I would cope with the situation well.
‘I felt nervous at first – he was the Prime Minister. The responsibility I was going to hold in my hands was quite overwhelming. I didn’t really know how to address him – should I call him Boris, Mr Johnson or Prime Minister? My matron reassured me and said to be myself like I am with any other patient.
‘I asked how he would like to be addressed and he said to call him Boris. That made me feel less nervous because he took away any formality. He just wanted to be looked after like anyone else.’
Mr Pitarma added: ‘I was by his side for the three nights he was in ICU. We had some conversations, including about where I was from. I told him how I’d dreamed about working at St Thomas’ since my first day of training in Portugal in 2009, when I learned about Florence Nightingale and her connection to the hospital.’
Mr Pitarma said he was delighted when the Prime Minister thanked him in person before leaving intensive care.
He said: ‘He thanked me for saving his life. I felt extremely proud for someone like him to recognise the quality of the job I’d done. I was very happy with his words, they were very kind.
‘I hope I can meet him again one day when he is fully recovered.’
He added: ‘It’s important to me to get on with my job as normal. Other patients need the same level of care as the Prime Minister did.
‘There are lives to save and a team to support.’
Nurse Luis Pitarma poses for a photo with his father Luis, left, mother Edite and sister Sonia Pitarma, right, in London. Luis Pitarma landed in the United Kingdom in 2014 after failing to find work in his native country, Portugal. Six years later, he has become Portugal’s most famous nurse, after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked him for his care while treated for coronavirus in hospital
Luis Pitarma’s (pictured) firefighter cousin Ivo Pitarma, who lives in Aveiro, said: ‘I’m obviously very proud’
His proud mother Edite earlier said he had spoken highly about the PM in conversations they have had since Mr Johnson won his Covid-19 fight.
Luis told her in a phone call he was looking after Boris, although she confessed she ‘had a feeling’ already because she knew her son worked at the London hospital where the PM was a patient and had tried but not managed to get through to him for several days.
Speaking from her home in Aveiro near the northern Portuguese city of Porto where Luis was born, Edite told Portuguese daily Jornal de Noticias: ‘Luis has said he was pleasantly surprised by how nice and down-to-earth Mr Johnson was.
‘He asked him to call him Boris and he wanted to know who he was, where he had been born and how long he had worked in England for.
‘Luis told him he was from Aveiro near Porto and he obviously remembered that. He told Luis he loved Porto and Portugal.’
She also revealed the PM personally thanked her son when he left intensive care and promised they would meet again, sparking speculation Luis and Jenny may get an invitation to Downing Street when Boris is better and Britain’s coronavirus lockdown is lifted.
Explaining her son’s reluctance to go public with his experience, Edite added: ‘He just wants to continue to be anonymous.
‘He hasn’t even been staying in an apartment he moved into a few weeks ago. He’s been living in a hotel his hospital booked him so he could stay out of the public eye.’
Luis’ little sister Sonia also told a Portuguese TV interviewer Edite had steered the hero NHS nurse away from his original career plan, adding: ‘At one time he wanted to become as much an actor as a doctor.’
Mr Pitarma, from Aveiro, Portgual, circled in red, with colleagues. The nurse helped save Mr Johnson’s life and was praised by Portugal’s President
Sonia, who was also a health worker before getting a job with a ceramics firm, said on broadcaster TVI: ‘What’s happened is a great source of pride for our family.
‘I knew my brother is a wonderful professional but I wasn’t expecting it to have such an impact.
‘Luis would look after anyone in the same way, whether it be a Prime Minister, a rich person or a poor person.
‘I know he’s my brother but I have to say he’s a very humble person.’
Proud Edite also revealed her son was still grieving the loss of a young female patient when he was asked to care for Boris Johnson.
She told Cristina Ferreira, a presenter on Portuguese TV channel SIC: ‘Luis told me last Thursday he was looking after the British Prime Minister.
‘He said that when they rang him and told him who he was going to care for, he started shaking.
‘All patients are important but obviously a Prime Minister is someone who holds a great position of responsibility.’
Recalling Luis’ departure for the UK for professional reasons when he struggled to find employment in Portugal after qualifying as a nurse, she added: ‘I still remember the day Luis left for England. It was June 12, 2014. It was the saddest day of my life.
‘He had no work here. He sent more than 200 CVs out and no-one called and he had to leave.
‘The day before he started looking after Boris Johnson, a 22-year-old girl who was ill died and he was very sad.’
A statement issued by the Portuguese president’s office on Sunday after his UK counterpart name-checked Luis, said: ‘Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa would like to highlight the special recognition the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has given Portuguese nurse Luis Pitarma for his work and care during his time in intensive care.
‘The President of the Republic has already personally transmitted his gratitude to the nurse Luis Pitarma and in his name, he also thanks the commitment of all Portuguese health professionals who in Portugal and around the world are providing decisive help in the fight to the pandemic. A word of encouragement that is also addressed to professionals of other nationalities who, reinforcing the National Health Service, provide an invaluable service to Portugal.’
Luis’ firefighter cousin Ivo Pitarma, who lives in Aveiro, said as news seeped out about the identify of the hero NHS worker: ‘I’m obviously very proud.
‘I knew of course that Luis was a nurse in London but had no idea he had been looking after Boris Johnson so this has come as a real surprise for me.’
In a video recorded shortly after he was discharged from St Thomas’s Hospital, Mr Johnson thanked the ‘utterly brilliant’ doctors, and praised the nurses for their ‘astonishing’ care.
He said: ‘I want to thank the many nurses, men and women, whose care has been so astonishing. I am going to forget some names, so forgive me, but I want to thank Po Ling and Shannon and Emily and Angel and Connie and Becky and Rachael and Nicky and Ann.’