Hospice grows team to meet increased demand during the pandemic

St John's Hospice senior staff nurses Trish McKee and Wazhma Mansouri

St John's Hospice senior staff nurses Trish McKee and Wazhma Mansouri - Credit: Polly Hancock

St John’s Hospice has added more carers to its team and widened its financial support to enable it to meet the needs of terminally-ill patients during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Since last March, inpatient admissions have risen by 20% as the stress of Covid takes its toll on some patients with pre-existing conditions. And while its day care unit – normally used by more than 60 patients every week - remains closed during the latest lockdown, the team has been working hard to stay in contact with all isolated patients. 

The hospice has recruited more staff while continuing to use a befriending service created earlier in the pandemic by volunteers who keep in touch regularly with patients.

Every year, St John’s Hospice gives free palliative care to around 4,000 patients living with life-limiting or terminal illnesses across eight London boroughs. That care and support takes place both within the hospice itself and within the communities it serves.  Of the patients being cared for in their own homes, half live on their own. 

St John's Hospice ambulance crew Kevin Shotter and Richard Arnold

St John's Hospice ambulance crew Kevin Shotter and Richard Arnold - Credit: Polly Hancock

Visits to patients in their homes are restricted to those critically ill, while others are being phoned weekly to maintain morale and provide emotional support.

Weekly care packages of crafts, fun activities and beauty products are being sent to reduce mental and physical decline, and virtual wellbeing activities, such as relaxation classes, are being provided to maintain a sense of community.  The packages are being delivered by the hospice ambulance team alongside food boxes to meet cultural and dietary needs of the most vulnerable. Staff regularly go shopping to buy food for poverty-stricken patients, paid for with hospice funds.
The hospice has also been providing financial grants to those patients and families facing extreme poverty due to the impact of furlough schemes, redundancies, and additional bills. Of the patients and families now being referred to the hospice’s social work and bereavement teams, around 95% are in need of financial support.

As the emotional strain of not being able to say a proper goodbye impacts on relatives, the hospice has seen an increased demand on its bereavement counselling service. As the largest palliative care provider in Westminster, St John’s is also the sole provider of child bereavement services in the area. There are now plans to recruit specialist counsellors to help reduce the trauma the pandemic has had on those who have lost loved one.

“This is an unprecedented time where our hospice services are under great pressure. Our priority is the safety and care of our hospice patients, and so we are continuing to adapt our services to reflect the evolving situation,’’ said Caroline Fox, St John’s Hospice chief executive officer. 

To boost morale, happiness calendars have been installed around the hospice to remind staff to take a moment for themselves, and staff support sessions - taking place remotely - have increased.

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Throughout the pandemic, except during lockdowns, staff have also been offered complimentary therapies such as reflexology and massage – a service normally given to patients and their families. 

The Hospice Inpatient Ward recently won Team of the Year in the annual Magic Moments awards held by St John & St Elizabeth Hospital, where the hospice is located.

Sue Hutton, St John’s Hospice assistant director of nursing

Sue Hutton, St John’s Hospice assistant director of nursing - Credit: Neil Kenyon/St John's Hospice

“All the teams have had to adapt in several ways due to the implications of Covid-19 in the hospice and they have done so with real professionalism and team spirit,” said Sue Hutton, St John’s assistant director of nursing. “As a hospice caring for COVID-19 patients over the past year, we have truly put in a team effort in caring for end-of-life patients and their families.”

She added: “Throughout the pandemic we have been overwhelmed by the strength, compassion, and care that our nurses and carers have shown our patients, and each other. They are on the front line of this worldwide pandemic, caring for more terminally-patients than ever before, whilst risking their own health.”

Help your Hospice

While St John’s Hospice has continued its work, fundraising events have had to be cancelled and its charity shops closed, leaving a 50% deficit.

Donations to St John’s Hospice can be made by visiting the hospice website www.stjohnshospice.org.uk or calling 020 7806 4040 and asking for the fundraising team.