Coronavirus: New Zealand nurse who treated Boris Johnson says it was 'surreal'

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Media captionMike and Caroline McGee said they are proud of their daughter

A New Zealand nurse praised by Boris Johnson for helping to save his life said treating the prime minister was the “most surreal time in her life”, her parents have said.

Jenny McGee, along with Luis Pitarma from Portugal, was praised by the PM for standing at his bedside “when things could have gone either way”.

Ms McGee’s parents told Television New Zealand they are “exceptionally proud”.

They said she treated Mr Johnson like any other patient.

Mr Johnson was discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital in London on Sunday, one week after being admitted to be treated for coronavirus. He spent several nights in the intensive care unit where he was given oxygen.

He said the NHS “has saved my life, no question” and paid tribute to many medics, singling out Ms McGee and Mr Pitarma specifically.

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Media captionIn a video message posted on Twitter, the PM thanked the NHS staff that cared for him

Ms McGee’s parents said they knew Mr Johnson was in the hospital their daughter works in as “it was all over the news”.

“But our daughter’s very professional so we don’t ask things or she doesn’t spill things. It really wasn’t until he was out of intensive care until she actually told us,” her mother Caroline told TVNZ.

“She said she had just had a most surreal time in her life, something she will never forget. And that she had been taking care of Boris.”

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Jenny McGee

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Ms McGee is from Invercargill, on New Zealand’s South Island

She added: “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’s looking after, this is what she does and 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 to keep their patients alive. It’s absolutely amazing.”

Her brother Rob said that when he spoke to her she was on her way to work to do another night shift. He told the New Zealand Herald: “We are all very proud of Jen, not just in the support she gave Boris – but what she has been doing helping everyday people.

“Whilst she is blown away by Boris’s recognition, she is just really pleased to see the public recognition for the amazing work the NHS is doing – that made her really proud.”

Ms McGee is from Invercargill, on New Zealand’s South Island. The mayor of the city Sir Tim Shadbolt told Stuff.co.nz: “It’s not very often a nurse from Invercargill saves the life of the British prime minister.”

Meanwhile, her former school Verdon College paid tribute to her “courage”, adding she had wanted to be a nurse since leaving school in 2002.

“Jenny is described by her past teachers as an absolutely delightful person and someone who had a caring and humble nature,” the college said in a statement.

The second nurse mentioned by Mr Johnson has been named as Luis Pitarma.

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Mr Pitarma is a senior staff nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital, his LinkedIn says

According to the Expresso, Mr Pitarma, 29, is from Aveiro in Portugal and moved to London six years ago. He studied nursing in Lisbon.

It added that he first worked at the Luton and Dunstable University Hospital for two years before moving to St Thomas’.

The president of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, has “personally thanked” Mr Pitarma, as well as “the commitment of all Portuguese health professionals who in Portugal and around the world are providing decisive help in the fight to the pandemic”.

On Monday, No 10 confirmed Mr Johnson had left hospital after being given the all clear by medics.

He will continue recovering at Chequers, the prime minister’s official country residence, as it was “considered to be a suitable place” and he will not be carrying out government work, the spokesman said.

Aides are reportedly expecting Mr Johnson to be out of action for up to a month while he recovers.

Mr Johnson spoke to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – who is currently in charge of running the government – over the weekend, No 10 added.

Speaking in a video posted after he left hospital, Mr Johnson, 55, said it was “hard to find words to express my debt” to the health service.

He thanked many nurses by name before adding: “I hope they won’t mind if I mention in particular two nurses who stood by my bedside for 48 hours when things could have gone either way.

“They’re Jenny from New Zealand. And Luis from Portugal near Porto.

“The reason in the end my body did start to get enough oxygen was because for every second of the night they were watching and they were thinking and they were caring and making the interventions I needed.”

Around one in eight NHS workers – 13.1% of the workforce, or 153,000 staff – are not British, according to a parliamentary report published in July last year.

After British, the most common nationalities of NHS staff are Indian with around 21,000 workers, followed by Filipino, Irish, Polish and then Portuguese staff.

On Sunday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock paid tribute to everyone who has joined the NHS from all over the world.