Working on our phone hub during COVID

Since the COVID pandemic began, we’ve seen a 25% rise in calls to our phone hub, which offers expert advice and support to patients, families and carers, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Senior staff nurse Liz Lewis, who works on the hub, tells us about the challenges the team are facing.

“It’s been really tough for our community nursing team working through the challenges of COVID. We’re busier than ever supporting terminally ill people across the city, the deans and the havens. There are so many people who desperately need pain management, symptom relief, emotional support and mobility care. With the extra demands of the pandemic and so many more people being ill, we’ve worked really hard with our district nursing colleagues to meet the needs. This means we’ve been taking a lot more calls into the hub for advice and support.

Our role is to give specialist palliative care advice, but we always work with our community nursing and GP colleagues as well as care agencies and care homes to do all that we can to help people. Our phone hub is one of the key ways we do this and is available round-the-clock, seven days a week. This is only possible with all our teams working together to cover calls, whether administrative colleagues or nurses, it’s a true team effort. It’s about putting the patient at the centre of the care that’s available. This can be delivered directly by us, or through liaison with others involved in the patient’s care. By working together in the community, we can all do our jobs to support all aspects of a person’s care.

Caring for people at home

Eighty percent of our hospice care is delivered to people in their own homes so our community teams have been busier than ever. So whether that’s our occupational therapists, Hospice at Home, clinical nurse specialists, chaplain or doctors – we cover 34 square miles from Shoreham to Newhaven and north to Patcham. This might be through home visits or our phone hub. COVID has meant more restrictions on visiting our inpatient unit. This means more people who might’ve wanted to come into the Hospice at end-of-life are choosing to stay at home. They don’t want to be separated from their families. So, there’s more pressure on us at the hub to get specialist care out to people at home.

Home might also mean a care home. I’ve been coordinating care for a 59-year-old gentleman who lives in a local care home. He’s been in a lot of pain as he’s terminally ill and has complex needs. I talk with the care home workers to help get him the care he needs. It was important to do a whole person assessment for him so we could address all his issues. Not only his pain, but also the smaller issues that can affect quality of life.

Care home staff do an amazing job, but if it’s a residential home they are care staff not registered nurses. So, they rely on us at the hub to give advice about residents who are terminally ill. Everyone has pulled together around this patient to make sure he gets the best care.

I’ve also been supporting his visiting healthcare professionals. He was referred to us here at the hub by his GP’s nurse practitioner. But now our Hospice at Home team are involved in his end-of-life care; they are supporting the care home staff with his needs.

Home care via the internet

It’s not just arranging visits though that we do at the hub. There are non-stop phone calls and we ensure patients’ charts are up to date too. There’s a lot of admin to keep on top of as well as coordinating care and offering advice on holistic symptom management which covers physical, emotional and psycho-social needs.

We also refer people to our other Martlets services – chaplaincy, social work, wellbeing, as well as clinicians. It’s about getting a coordinated plan together of the right care for each individual person. Even in lockdown, these other services at Martlets are really supporting people by offering sessions online or by phone. It’s another way of caring for people in their own homes.

Some teams are using Zoom for video calls which helps build a connection for counselling and wellbeing sessions. A few of our doctors and clinical nurse specialists also do video calls. One lady I spoke to via the hub was worried about booking in for a Zoom call early in the morning. She said she’d still be in her pyjamas. I told her not to worry as we call it ‘lounge wear’ these days and everyone is doing it! A lot of what I do is about reassuring families and adapting care, so it suits each individual person.

Feeling the strain of COVID

Like all teams, we’ve been impacted by COVID. We’ve worked hard together to keep home visits and the phone hub running. But this has been tough. Sometimes it’s hard because you want to do the best you can for patients. We want everyone who needs us out there to get the best care possible.

We’re keeping strong at Martlets despite the challenges and rest assured the hub will keep coordinating care across the community. Any support you can offer us would be wonderful. The majority of Martlets’ funding has to come from community fundraising. So making a donation will help us keep on caring for those who need use most.”

You can support Martlets by donating to our appeal here.