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Friday, 22 October 2021
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One year on: Frontline workers on continuing to care through COVID-19

It has been a year since the pandemic was first declared, and while it brought much of the UK to a standstill, the vital care that Ashgate Hospicecare provides to patients and their families has never stopped.

The hospice’s frontline workers have been working tirelessly since last March, continuing to provide quality end-of-life care and supporting NHS colleagues in the COVID-19 response to ease pressure on the healthcare system.

Few hospices in the country have supported as many end-of-life COVID patients as Ashgate, with one in three beds being used by patients who had tested positive with the virus during the second wave. Demand for its care had never been greater, and staff from across the organisation were redeployed to their busy inpatient unit.

From the tireless housekeeping team who kept the hospice safe and clean to the community team providing essential care to patients at home – nobody could have anticipated how the pandemic would unfold.

But they’ve continued to work with dedication and professionalism through three national lockdowns; so that patients receive the very best care possible at the end of their life.

As we approach the one-year anniversary since the pandemic was first declared, we hear about the highs and lows that Ashgate Hospicecare’s frontline workers have experienced over the past 12 months.

To ensure that Ashgate Hospicecare can continue to respond to the pandemic in months to come, donate at: https://www.ashgatehospicecare.org.uk/donation/.

Caring on the frontline during COVID-19

Hannah Botsford is a Healthcare Assistant working on Ashgate Hospice’s Inpatient Unit, here she tells us how life has changed for her since the pandemic unfolded:

‘It has been a challenging journey so far, but I’m proud to be representing Ashgate during the pandemic. The impact that COVID-19 has on my day-to-day job has been huge. There’s been lots of new policies and procedures we have to follow to ensure everyone is safe, which can often change daily.

‘In fact, I feel safer coming in to work at Ashgate than I do visiting a supermarket! It can feel daunting at times because I am constantly checking that I am following all procedures to ensure the risk is reduced, but ultimately, we’re still doing our best to make sure everyone gets the best care possible, regardless of COVID.

‘Personally, I have suffered from anxiety and depression myself for years, and the pandemic has had a huge impact on this. However, there is a lot of support at Ashgate; we are encouraged to take time out to gather our thoughts.

‘My colleagues are the best source of support, as we can understand what each other is feeling and help one another. Some shifts are stressful, and sometimes we shed tears – we’re only human – but we carry on with a smile on our faces. We all pull together as a team, and we couldn’t do it all without each other.

‘I work 12 and a half hour shifts, sometimes during the day and sometimes a night shift. It’s hard work, but I start each shift thinking about the patients’ families and how they would want their loved ones to be cared for, that’s what I strive to do. I take care of them like I would my own family. It’s a tough decision to come to the hospice for some people because there’s a stigma behind it. And the end of someone’s life is always a tough time – even before the pandemic – but the hospice is such a lovely place, one filled with laughter, smiles and a chance to make special memories.

‘The biggest challenge for me since the Coronavirus outbreak is not being able to hug! I love to give my patients a cuddle when they’re upset or scared. A cuddle between staff goes a long way too, sometimes we need that support and comfort throughout a tough shift.

‘Ashgate has a special place in my heart as they cared for my grandad; it means the world to me! My family motivates me, they are so supportive, and if I have a bad day, they always manage to cheer me up. When I first applied to work at the hospice, admittedly I was very scared! I thought it would be all doom and gloom. How wrong could I be?! It’s a much happier place than a hospital, and we can offer care that isn’t accessible to patients in a hospital. We get more time to spend with patients to talk and create lasting memories. Each patient has access to be outside even if they are bedbound, which I think is lovely!

‘The thing I miss most about life before COVID is getting to see my friends and family. The girls and I have planned a mini–Mamma Mia themed food and drinks festival for when we can get together. We’ve started finding our outfits already!’

Caring in the community during COVID-19

Amanda Hall, a Palliative Care Specialist Nurse at Ashgate Hospicecare, tells of the challenges of caring for patients and their families in the community during the COVID-19 crisis:

‘Caring for patients and families in the community has been a real challenge over the past year for myself and the community team. We’ve had to adapt to a new way of working from home whilst continuing to visit people in their homes, some of whom have tested positive for COVID.

‘Demand for our services rose overnight by over 50 per cent during the first lockdown, but due to staff sickness and other resource pressures, our team is often scaled-back. We are tired; the hours are long; the work is relentless, but we’re part of an awesome team, and the support everyone offers one another is absolutely world-class.

‘We are limiting visits as much as possible but still responding to the needs of our patients and families – with the aim to provide the best possible care to people in their own homes. This is made all the more challenging with new and different barriers and guidelines in place, which are ever-changing too. We have to adapt all the time.

‘Trying to do the job in full PPE is problematic for us, particularly when we’re trying to have those difficult conversations with patients and their family members. It is instinctive to offer grieving families a hug, and that would be something we would have done before the pandemic, but we just can’t now.

‘I’m a very tactile person, so that’s hard for me – when the love of someone’s life is dying, and you just want to comfort them. It is incredibly difficult.

‘Understandably, some people are uneasy about us visiting their homes and ask us not to visit, others are desperate to see us because they haven’t received specialist care from a professional for a long time.

‘Wearing the PPE is obviously uncomfortable, but protecting our patients and their families is the biggest priority. It can get very hot, and that’s going to get even worse again in the summer, but it means we’re still able to do our jobs.

‘For me, palliative care is about making sure we do the best we can for these people. You’ve got one chance to get it right, you can’t go back and change anything or do it differently after. It is our mission to ensure that those being cared for are as comfortable and pain-free as possible.

‘Often, it’s about listening to someone and just giving them time to talk about their problems. It’s about giving that reassurance to people that they’re not alone. I just want people to have the best experience they can – that’s what motivates me to get up to go to work in the morning.

‘I went to visit a relatively young gentleman recently; he had been keeping all support available to him at arm’s reach because he’s tried to come across as strong as possible to his family. He ended up having financial troubles, was in pain and needed help supporting his children and his wife. I just listened, offered all the advice and support that I could. By the end of the visit, he said he felt so much happier as his family now had a plan in place.

‘End of life care isn’t a one size fits all approach. It’s a bit like being a detective; you have to unpick the case and get to the root of what the problem is. If you’re nosy like me, you get to know what’s going on!

‘I’m immensely proud to be representing Ashgate throughout this time. As hard as it is at times, I still love my job, and I’m very proud to be part of a team doing everything it can to support people at the end of their life in the best possible way. And despite the numerous challenges the community team has faced, they have all demonstrated huge dedication and professionalism throughout.’

Volunteering during COVID-19

Debbie Hasland, a volunteer receptionist at Ashgate Hospicecare from Dronfield, tells of her experiences volunteering for the charity throughout the pandemic:

‘I feel very proud to be volunteering for Ashgate during the Coronavirus pandemic. My role as a receptionist has changed quite a lot since the outbreak started – now I check people’s temperatures when they come through the door, ensure everyone sanitises their hands, as well as the usual responsibilities of welcoming families and answering the phones.

‘I first started volunteering exactly three years ago to get some admin experience; I hadn’t had much contact with the hospice before that until a few months later when my sister Amanda was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She ended up in the Inpatient Unit in November and died seven weeks later. She was only 55. It was a complete shock. But the care she received was brilliant, and there was always someone there to care for her. I came to visit her every day because we were very close.

‘That must be the hard part for families during the pandemic. To prevent the spread of the virus, patients are only allowed one designated visitor until they reach the very end of their life, which I imagine must be sad. I compare it to what I felt like – I can’t imagine being able to visit my sister and my mum not. It’s great that families at Ashgate do get to see relatives being cared for because that’s not the case in hospitals.

‘At Ashgate, everything is very organised. I come along on Monday afternoons to volunteer on reception and feel very safe. I don’t feel like I’m putting myself or my family at risk. Most importantly, after the care my sister received, I just want to work hard and do my bit to give something back. I’m a busy person and always like having something to do as well.

‘There are lots of nice people that work and volunteer for the charity. Some of them have been here for 15 years or longer. I’m looking forward to continuing to do my bit throughout the lockdown and beyond, hopefully for some time to come.’

Swapping the shop floor for the hospice ward

Andrea Farmery, Deputy Store Manager at Ashgate’s Hasland Furniture Store, has been redeployed to the hospice ward whilst her shop is closed. She’s now working as a Ward Assistant and supporting doctors and nurses on the frontline by making sure PPE is available to everyone and welcoming families to the hospice:

‘If you’d told me before the pandemic outbreak that in a year’s time, I’d be working on the inpatient unit instead of in a retail role, I’d never have believed you!

‘It’s fair to say I’m most familiar selling household goods as Deputy Store Manager at the Hasland Furniture Store, rather than helping doctors and nurses as a Ward Assistant.

‘The transition has been a learning curve, to say the least, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge so far, and I’m pleased to be doing my bit to support my hospice colleagues during these difficult times.

‘Admittedly, I was quite apprehensive about being redeployed onto the ward after being furloughed since the start of the lockdown.

‘But I like to be busy and keep some structure to my week; being on furlough, I found I was losing track of the days and had too much time on my hands, so I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer at the vaccine centre at first. And then, when the call from the hospice went out to support the inpatient unit, I felt it was my duty to help and give something back.

‘I’d never worked in a healthcare environment before, the only experience I have of working in any type of care role was when I was looking after my dad in the last few months of his life.

‘It’s all been completely new to me, but the support from the frontline staff on the ward has been fantastic, and the training from them has really helped me to feel more confident in the tasks I’ve been given.

‘I’ve been doing lots of different things – from ensuring enough PPE is always available and cleaning down rooms when patients have been discharged, to working on the reception and answering calls from families of patients receiving care.

‘Despite working in an environment where there are COVID patients, I still feel completely safe as the measures that Ashgate has in place are excellent. Everywhere you go feels very clean.

‘Ultimately, I’m just pleased to be able to offer my help to take the pressure of some jobs away from the busy team, so they can focus on providing vital care to the patients at Ashgate. Everyone working in the inpatient unit is very busy, but they always manage to do their jobs calmly, which creates a warm and relaxing environment for the patients and their family.

‘I’m hoping to learn from them whilst I’m here and take that calmness and pace of work back to my role in retail.

‘I’m very proud to work for Ashgate Hospicecare, and I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to help my colleagues at the hospice during the pandemic. It’s lovely to be able to do a job that helps people when they need it most.

Keeping us safe during COVID-19

Jane Woodhouse, a Housekeeper Supervisor at Ashgate Hospicecare, has been working for the charity since 2006, and her team’s responsibility is to ensure the hospice is a clean and safe space for everyone. Something that has been even more important during the pandemic.

‘Our roles as housekeepers are more important now than they have ever been.

‘It’s up to us to make sure that the hospice is a clean and safe environment for everyone who works, visits or is cared for here.

‘With COVID-19 patients receiving care in our inpatient unit, it is our responsibility to stop the spread of the virus and prevent people from being infected.

‘We have introduced many new processes to keep everyone safe. This includes intensive cleaning of patient rooms, routinely changing the curtains, wiping down door handles and surfaces – the list is very comprehensive, and we do most things three times a day. It’s a physical job, especially when wearing PPE, but it is essential to ensure that we can continue to provide our care and services.

‘One of the most challenging parts of the job is not being able to make that human connection with a patient, as the PPE can act as a barrier. It makes having conversations difficult, particularly as we are trying to be in and out of a room as soon as possible.

‘Every day is different throughout the pandemic; there can be days that seem particularly tough, but everyone working on the ward is there for one another. We look out for each other and do our best to help one another out – that’s what keeps you going.

‘I’ve been working at Ashgate since 2006, and I’m so proud to be part of this team. Everything we do is for the benefit of the hospice.

‘My team and I go above and beyond, and it’s all to make sure patients receive the best end of life care that’s possible.’

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