On the frontline: “We set up 200 hospice staff to work from home in 3 days – it was incredible”

Categories: Care, Featured, and People & Places.

Dawn Poon is the Systems Programme Director at Saint Francis Hospice in Essex. While this may not be a role that immediately springs to mind when we think of staff working on the frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic, here Dawn tells us about the huge task of completely redesigning the hospice’s IT systems so people could work from home.

Moving staff off-site during lockdown

Since I joined the hospice 18 months ago, I’ve been redesigning systems to ensure that our technology reflects the current digital landscapes — whether those be in our ward, offices or our charity retail stores — such as the tills. They all need to be in sync, up to date, and fit for purpose.

When Boris Johnson announced the lockdown in March, we had to get lots of staff off-site, and quickly. Overnight, it became a case of asking over 200 people to stay home, and then having to find a solution for them to work from home effectively.

Within three days, we managed to set up everyone — bar our frontline staff — to work from the confines of their homes. This was an incredible achievement but wasn’t without our IT team making huge sacrifices, by working long nights and giving up their weekends.

It seemed as though everyone in the world was trying to get hold of laptops, webcams, office chairs, and other equipment. We’re still feeling the effects of that; the supply chain is still incredibly slow.

Working in “the new normal”

I caught Covid-19 myself, and had to spend a week in bed with what felt like heavy flu. The weakening of my lungs led to pneumonia. My illness made me realise how real the situation is and how vulnerable people are.

After self-isolating, I’ve now safely returned to the hospice to work closely with our head of health and safety officer to put the necessary measures in place to ensure everyone feels safe. The next phase is about sustaining people’s ability to work from home — we know we’re not all going to return to the hospice soon.

Creating home workspaces without the backache

We’re looking at providing workstation assessments for our staff at home so that they don’t develop aches, pains, or any long-term conditions, without wanting to ‘drop’ entire offices into their homes.

Returning staff to our hospice will be a slow and measured process, but our wish of allowing patients’ loved ones to visit our ward has remained possible. It’s testament to everyone here that people still feel safe visiting our ward — despite any fears they may have.

Until there’s at least a readily-available vaccine, we won’t be pushing for life to go back to how it was pre-pandemic any time soon. We don’t want to undo all the good work that we’ve done. We are, of course, prepared for the worst-case scenario of a second wave.

Everyone, from our staff to our patients and their visitors have been so understanding. Any resistance would have made things so much harder. I must also say a special thank you to our supporters. It’s difficult to imagine where the pandemic would have left our hospice without their help — maybe even non-existent.

Support for frontline workers

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