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Amanda Hall, a Palliative Care Specialist Nurse at Ashgate Hospicecare, tells of the challenges of caring for patients and their families in the community during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Caring for patients and families in the community has been a real challenge over the past year for myself and the community team.  

We’ve had to adapt to a new way of working from home whilst continuing to visit people in their homes, some of whom have tested posited for COVID. 

Demand for our services rose overnight by over 50 per cent during the first lockdown but due to staff sickness and other resource pressures, our team is often scaled-back. 

We are tired; the hours are long; the work is relentless, but we’re part of an awesome team and the support everyone offers one another is absolutely world class. 

We are limiting visits as much as possible, but still responding to the needs of our patients and families. With the aim to provide the best possible care to people in their own homes. This is made all the more challenging with new and different barriers and guidelines in place, which are everchanging too, we’re having to adapt all the time.  

Trying to do the job in full PPE is problematic for us, particularly when we’re trying to have those difficult conversations with patients and their family members. 

It is instinctive to offer grieving families a hug and that would be something we would have done before the pandemic but we just can’t now.  

I’m a very tactile person so that’s hard for me – when the love of someone’s life is dying and you just want to comfort them. It is incredibly difficult.  

Understandably, some people are uneasy about us visiting their homes and ask us not to visit , others are desperate to see us because they haven’t received specialist care from a professional for a long time. 

Wearing the PPE is obviously uncomfortable but protecting our patients and their families is the biggest priority. It can get very hot, and that’s going to get even worse again in the summer, but it means we’re still able to do our jobs.   

A rad wolf

For me, palliative care is about making sure we do the best we can for these people. You’ve got one chance to get it right, you can’t go back and change anything or do it differently after. It is our mission is to ensure that those being cared for are as comfortable and pain free as possible.  

Often, it’s about listening to someone and just giving them time to talk about their problems. It’s about giving that reassurance to people that they’re not alone. I just want people to have the best experience of it they can – that’s what motivates me to get up to go to work in the morning. 

I went to visit a relatively young gentleman recently; he had been keeping all support available to him at arm’s reach because he’s tried to come across as strong as possible to his family. He ended up having finance troubles, was in pain and needed help supporting his children and his wife. I just listened, offered all the advice and support that I could. By the end of the visit, he said he felt so much happier as his family now had a plan in place.  

End of life care isn’t a one size fits all approach. It’s a bit like being a detective; you have to unpick the case and get to the root of what the problem is. If you’re nosy like me, you get to know what’s going on! 

I’m immensely proud to be representing Ashgate throughout this time. As hard as it is at times, I still love my job and I’m very proud to be part of a team doing everything it can to support people at the end of their life in the best possible way. And despite the numerous challenges the community team has faced, they have all demonstrated huge dedication and professionalism throughout.