Sheffield hospice care team adapt end-of-life care amidst Coronavirus pandemic

All too many have faced the heartbreaking reality of not being by a loved one’s side in their final moments as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Friday, 15th May 2020, 2:14 pm
Updated Monday, 18th May 2020, 10:38 am

So many families have been robbed of the chance to say goodbye; the chance to make memories they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.

But at Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice, the incredible care team have adapted the way they work to give families the chance to make those precious memories together.

Nurse Team Leader Gemma Kent, who has worked at Bluebell Wood for over 11 years, explains the challenges they face in making this possible.

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Nurse Charlotte Loates in PPE and team leader Gemma Kent in scrubs

“Ordinarily we might have two or three nurses in one of our end-of-life suites with a family at any given time, depending on the needs of the child,” said Gemma, 37, from Rotherham.

“Right now we limit nurses to being present only if they’re essential, and the nurse will be wearing full PPE, which at a minimum includes a facemask, gloves, and sometimes goggles and a full apron.

“Sometimes with end-of-life care it’s not about verbal communication. We use different cues to comfort a family and a child, but if you’ve got your face covered up they may not see a comforting smile or facial expression. So it’s about having to do things differently.

“We’re caring for a child in our end-of-life suite at the minute, and we’re doing lots of eye contact, shushing, cooing noises and other vocal cues.

“We tend to use a lot of music too, so we’ve been playing classical and calming music for them.

“It’s about adapting our care the best we can under the circumstances, which is something we’re all doing in our own ways to make sure families feel comfortable, safe and secure.

“It’s also testament to the strategies we’ve put in place to make sure we can still be there for families when they need us the most.

“The whole team have shown so much resilience and we’re still managing to build those relationships despite the barriers.”

Support Worker Jane Knight agrees that social distancing, while absolutely necessary, can be particularly difficult in an end of life setting.

“We’re not able to give family members a hug as we ordinarily would,” said Jane, 52, from Sheffield.

“Sometimes you don’t even talk, you just put your hand on someone’s shoulder, and it’s enough. So being restricted in how we approach physical contact can be very difficult.

“I know in hospitals many aren’t having loved ones by their bedside, but we’re lucky enough to still be able to maintain that. Any child in our care will never be alone; they can always be accompanied by their immediate family, although unfortunately we must restrict visits from other family members or friends.

“Families at the hospice aren’t able to have free access to all the spaces in the building that they would normally, as we are supporting them to follow strict social distancing guidelines.

“Our ethos is about making it a home away from home for families, so something as simple as not being able to sit down and have a cup of tea with another family in the hospice - and having that closeness - can be tough.

“We’re all having to do things differently, but all the families in our care are still being treated with the same level of care and compassion.”

Wearing facemasks has been one of the biggest adaptations the care team have had to make, says nurse Charlotte Loates.

“It must be so scary for a child to see this person coming towards you fully gowned and kitted,” said Charlotte, 33, from Worksop.

“On a night shift recently a little one was so upset, but to pick them and up and cradle them with all the protective gear on – how scary must that be?

“From a nurse’s point of view it can be uncomfortable too, especially after wearing a mask for a long time. I think it’s safe to say none of us have ever worked in conditions like these before.

“But we’ll continue to do everything we can to keep our families and one another safe.”

Together the care team have risen to each and every challenge they’ve faced through the Coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re an extremely close-knit team and we always help each other out, but I think this pandemic has brought us even closer together if that was possible,” said Gemma.

“The team work is just incredible. I know it’s tough for everyone right now not being able to see those closest to them, but coming to work we’re also seeing our friends.

“When we observed the minute’s silence recently, it was difficult for all of us. I’ve lost a colleague I worked with a few years ago in the pandemic, and we all know somebody who’s lost someone through this.”

“But despite all these challenges, the care we are giving at Bluebell Wood is, as ever, outstanding.

“It’s a team I’m incredibly proud to be a part of.”

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