On the frontline: “Helping people say goodbye is very rewarding for us”

Categories: Care, Featured, and People & Places.

Specialists Nurses from St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth based at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust have shared their reflections on 2020, a turbulent year which saw them work tirelessly to keep delivering compassionate care despite the pandemic.

Early in the year, when the hospital was in the eye of the storm, Linzie Collins and Becky Harris were among St Luke’s staff who joined forces with hospital doctors and nurses on the frontline, looking after seriously ill patients on the Covid red wards.


The power of communication

Linzie and Becky explain that it’s not just their hands-on care that has made a difference to patients – it’s also the way they have communicated with patients’ families, combining sensitivity and kindness with clarity, to help relatives understand their loved one’s prognosis.

Linzie said: “Before joining St Luke’s team at Derriford Hospital, I nursed patients at the specialist unit at the hospice, where having these honest conversations with families happens on a very regular basis. It is never easy but you realise that in being open with them, and in a sensitive way being clear about what they should expect, is actually the kindest thing you can do because it helps prepare them as much as possible for what is going to happen.

“It gives them the opportunity to tell their loved one all that they feel they want to say before that person dies, which helps bring them comfort and more peace of mind.”

Supporting nurses

Linzie and Becky have been helping their hospital colleagues have these open discussions. Additionally, recognising that the hospital trust’s nurses often have difficulty finding the time to make calls to patients’ families, Linzie developed a ‘communication folder’ containing a simple form to record dates, times and brief notes of conversations that took place. Thanks to the simplicity of the form, it can easily be updated no matter the time of day or night of the call, if it’s at 3am.

“Nurses are so busy that they just don’t have time to be hunting around for information” Linzie explained. “I felt this was something simple I could do to help make things a little easier, with all key details about conversations with family and friends recorded in one central place.

“It was rewarding being able to help in this way to relieve some of the pressure on the hospital team, who have been so brave and are so exhausted, and they welcomed our suggestions and help with this.

“Something that it really brought home to Becky and me is that in working for St Luke’s we have the benefit of time to get to know our patients – it’s all part of our holistic approach. Time is such a precious commodity at the hospital and there are always so many demands on the nurses – they have to prioritise giving clinical care above all else.”

Helping loved ones say goodbye

Throughout the pandemic, Linzie, Becki and their colleagues have had to come up with innovative ideas to help dying patients feel as connected as possible to their loved ones despite the physical distance. Technology has had a big part to play in this.

Becky said: “I’ll never forget witnessing a Zoom call we facilitated between a patient and his daughter. As you’d expect, she was devastated that she couldn’t be at his side to hold his hand, but she was at least able to tell him over and again how much she loved him. It was heartbreaking to see, but I’m so reassured that she was able to have that conversation with her dad. In time, knowing he heard her say how precious he was to her will – I hope – help heal her memories.”

“Normal grief patterns have been lost in Covid-19 because of how fast things have happened, the restrictions on families visiting their loved ones and even funerals having to be done differently. Being able to help, even in small ways, feels very rewarding for us.”

More information

Our Frontline is a partnership between Shout, Samaritans, Mind, Hospice UK and The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It offers round-the-clock one-to-one support, by call or text from trained volunteers, plus resources, tips and ideas to look after your mental health.

Hospice UK’s Just ‘B’ Counselling & Trauma helpline.  The service is a free confidential national helpline available 7 days a week from 8am to 8pm on 0300 030 4434, providing bereavement, trauma and emotional support for all NHS, care sector staff and emergency service workers.

  • Call the ‘Just B’ Counselling & Trauma helpline on 0300 030 4434
  • Visit the Our Frontline site

** First published on January 8th 2021 on http://www.hospiceuk.org.uk

** Reprinted with permission


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