Chief Nurse Heather McClelland reflects on the last six months at St Gemma’s and how the Hospice has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic:
“It’s hard to put into words how much we have achieved as an organisation over the last few months. We started the year full of our usual ambition and energy, not knowing that a global pandemic would take hold and change our lives at work and at home.
Our first formal internal ‘Cobra’ meeting took place on 6 March when we set up a pandemic group and started to put plans into place. We scrutinised (as we still do) every piece of emerging government guidance to ensure we understood the implications for our charity. Whatever the guidance, our first priority was, and still is, staff and patient safety – both in the Hospice and out in the community.
It has been remarkable to see colleagues in all areas transforming the way they work individually and as teams. Many staff spent weeks or months working at their kitchen tables. Others donned full PPE (personal protective equipment) and carried on living up to our motto – Always Caring.
Behind the scenes, we closed our charity shops, postponed fundraising events, and cancelled a whole calendar of training and teaching sessions in our Academic Unit. That’s as well as implementing social distancing measures across the site and giving most staff a crash course in online meetings such as Zoom.
Many things have been challenging along the way, such as the unbearable decisions about In-Patient visiting – should we allow visitors, how many and for how long? None of us enjoyed having to impose restrictions of any kind at such a difficult time. But we worked through it, keeping the patient and those around them at the heart of all our decisions.
The most remarkable thing is the resilience and flexibility of staff across the whole organisation. Most of our services have continued as before, albeit with some adjustments. But the teams continue to transform the way they work and we’ve even managed to develop new services and support for patients during the year.
Our community team have used video conferencing with patients, enabling them to have conversations about pain, fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath and also about planning for the future. This was a really great innovation for us and enabled us to continue to see patients when face-to-face contact wasn’t possible.
The Day Services team have also been busy developing new ways of supporting and keeping in touch with patients. They have been sending regular updates and the weekly drop-in sessions, carers’ group, and Breeze group, which supports patients with Breathlessness, fatigue and anxiety management, are all now online via Zoom.
Patients who can’t be supported virtually are having any symptoms managed either by telephone support or face-to-face home visits. And we are now beginning to offer Out-Patient appointments once again.
Early in the pandemic we set up a telephone support line for anyone dealing with a bereavement. This has now evolved into a new regional helpline, the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Grief and Loss Support Service. St Gemma’s staff and volunteers are involved in supporting the service, which is available to anyone living in the West Yorkshire and Harrogate area who is feeling sad or upset about people dying during the coronavirus pandemic. There is a telephone support line and a live online chat facility where people can talk to a trained professional about how they are feeling. It is open 7 days per week, 8am-8pm.
Our Family Support Team also developed a practical funeral guide to help anyone planning a funeral during the pandemic. Losing a loved one is difficult at any time, but the current restrictions make things even harder than usual.
All in all, I’ve seen the teams rise to the challenge and I’m truly proud of the way we have responded to this crisis as an organisation.”