Since launching in April 2019, more than 1,850 patients and their families in Great Yarmouth and Waveney have been supported by the free specialist palliative care provided by the joint partnership of St Elizabeth Hospice and East Coast Community Healthcare (ECCH).
Typically living with conditions such as cancer, heart failure, pulmonary hypertension and neurological disorder, these patients have received free care through the partnership’s varied specialist care provision available at Beccles Hospital, in the community and through the service’s 24-hour advice line, OneCall.
The demands of the ongoing pandemic and busy Christmas period saw the partnership directly care for 1,147 patients in 2020 both at Beccles Hospital and in the community across Waveney and Great Yarmouth, representing an increase of 57% when compared to 2019.
This increase in demand and ever-changing challenges has seen much innovation to service provision, such as the expansion of St Elizabeth Hospice’s OneCall service to form The Hub, which serves as a 24-hour advice line as well as a centre for the co-ordination of end-of-life community care.
One member of the St Elizabeth Hospice Great Yarmouth and Waveney team who has experienced these service adaptations and seen first-hand the challenges posed by coronavirus is Specialist Palliative Care Clinical Team Leader, Charlie Corcoran.
“Working throughout the pandemic has definitely had its challenges!” she explained.
“Our workload has consistently increased during the pandemic. We have had the struggle of patients facing isolating situations, as they fear allowing visitors into their homes could make them vulnerable to catching Covid-19.
“This has led to an increased fear of patients dying alone without the support of their loved ones or not being present to say goodbye, which is something we never want and we have worked hard to ensure this was not the case.
“While through our caseloads and our 24/7 helpline, OneCall, we have found ways to ensure we are still there for patients, even if in some cases physical visits had to be restricted, and many patients and their families have been very thankful for this continued service.”
Having joined St Elizabeth Hospice in 2019, after previously working in palliative care for seven years at James Paget University Hospital, Charlie is a familiar face throughout the area as she visits patients in their homes to provide care or is often supporting patients and professionals via telephone.
One key change to her day-to-day work, which has posed challenges, has been the necessity for staff to wear PPE to ensure patient and staff safety.
Charlie said: “At first wearing the full PPE felt alien and like a huge barrier when having sensitive conversations and giving emotional support.
“It has been particularly difficult to not offer physical support, whether that is an arm on the shoulder or holding a patient’s hand, if they are emotional or feeling vulnerable that day; knowing it is not safe to do so means you have to adapt your instinctive human responses in order to show compassion safely.
“It was also initially quite frightening for staff, as we wanted to continue supporting patients but were not sure how much danger we were putting ourselves and our own families in, but as a healthcare worker you always think of those you are supporting first and over time things have become easier and we have all grown accustomed and feel protected and supported by the wider team.”
With the success of the vaccine roll-out programme by James Paget University Hospital, and most healthcare staff now vaccinated, there is hope for positive changes on the horizon.
Despite the difficulties posed by the pandemic, it has been the spirit and commitment to patient care that has motivated St Elizabeth Hospice and ECCH staff to continue delivering their vital services.
“Staying emotionally strong has been difficult at times but as a team we are all there for each other and I could not be more proud of the team,” added Charlie.
“We pride ourselves on being able to support the communities of Great Yarmouth and Waveney and despite the pandemic we have continued to achieve this.
“However, none of this would be possible without the strength of our team and the support we receive from local people. Whether that is volunteering, making donations or fundraising for the hospice, the community response has been amazing and really highlights how we have joined together in a united stance against Covid-19.”
For more information about the partnership’s services in Great Yarmouth and Waveney visit www.stelizabethhospice.org.uk/how-we-can-help/hospice-care/great-yarmouth_and-waveney.
To contact the 24-hour specialist palliative care advice line, OneCall, call 0800 567 0111.