This autumn, as COVID cases throughout the UK and South West continue to climb, Rowcroft is experiencing an escalating demand for our care. Over recent months, our Hospice at Home service – which provides end-of-life care to people in their own homes across 300 square miles of South Devon – has been flooded by a surge in demand. Referrals to our Community Team – which offers services encompassing clinical nurse specialists, specialist palliative care doctors, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and bereavement support – are also steadily rising to extremely high levels. This rise in demand, along with the extreme challenges of COVID which have added a whole new layer of complexity to what is already a very complex type of care, are intensifying pressure and increasing challenges for Rowcroft’s care teams in keeping everyone safe. While caring for almost 2,500 local people each year, Rowcroft has taken numerous steps to safeguard its patients, families, staff and volunteers, as Vicky Bartlett, Rowcroft’s Deputy Director of Patient Care and Professional Lead, explains:
“Prior to the pandemic, we were already anticipating a rise in the numbers of those needing palliative care, due to our increasingly ageing population. However, as this second wave of COVID takes grip, we are witnessing soaring demand, particularly for our community and Hospice at Home services – so much so that on occasions we have been unable to accept referrals due to us reaching the maximum number of people we can support. Over the coming months, we anticipate even greater pressures on our services, particularly as people who are fearful to go to hospital – due to a growing number of COVID cases in the area – will prefer to be cared for at home.”
Rowcroft provides specialist nursing care, advice and emotional support to people with life-limiting illnesses and their families across South Devon. While we have a small Inpatient Unit in Torquay, around 80% of our patients are cared for in their own homes, as per their wishes. Rowcroft’s nurses and care teams on the frontline are working hard to meet patients’ needs, but Rowcroft is facing numerous pandemic-related challenges, including a significant reduction in funding due to the cancellation of our mass participation fundraising events and, due to lockdown, a loss in income from the closure of our shops and cafes across the region. Other major challenges include: staff shortages due to colds and self-isolation; staff fatigue – exacerbated by the difficulties of coping with the pandemic for so many months; and concerns regarding the sourcing of clinical masks and gloves due to national shortages.
“Morale and fatigue are very real issues for all those who work in a healthcare setting, and we are working hard to ensure all our staff and volunteers have the support they need,” says Vicky. “We have a finite resource of staff here delivering care, so any additional challenges really put pressure on our teams, but we are all working hard to pull together and to support each other. This is successfully aided by our superfluid strategy (whereby staff work flexibly across teams to offer support where the need is greatest), and we are currently trying to recruit more clinical staff.”
Staff absence caused by flu could also potentially put more pressure on Rowcroft’s clinical teams, so we are offering free flu vaccination to all staff.
Despite the endless challenges and pressures caused by COVID, Rowcroft is continuing to provide expert care, putting patients’ needs and choices at the very heart of the care that they receive.
“For our patients and families facing the most difficult days imaginable, our staff are making such a positive difference, even during these extremely challenging times. For example, where family members are shielding and therefore unable to visit patients in the hospice, we’ve been helping patients to connect to their loved ones through technology. Just recently, one patient listened to soothing poetry read by his wife over the phone, while he peacefully passed away in our Inpatient Unit. Despite the difficult circumstances, we’re doing everything we can to keep patients and their loved ones united.”
Our staff and volunteers demonstrate an incredible resilience and a highly professional work ethic. Patient safety remains a top priority and is at the centre of all Rowcroft’s policies and procedures.
“We have so many measures in place to keep everyone safe on the frontline of care,” says Vicky. “And we feel we are even more prepared now than we were when we faced COVID for the first time back in March. For this second wave, we already have rigorous safety procedures in place: we have well-established practices with regard to cleaning and infection control; our care teams are accustomed to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE); our patients and families are familiar with hand sanitising, social distancing and wearing face coverings when required to; and we are becoming well-practised at carrying out patient consultations remotely via video link where possible, or by telephone, in order to prevent any COVID infection risk to patients and families. With all this in mind, we feel we are well-prepared to weather this storm.
“While we brace ourselves for the full force of this second wave, we are exceedingly thankful to all those in our local community who are continuing to stand strong by our side. We cannot thank everyone enough for their support. We know we have some tough months ahead, and we’re very much hoping that together we will come through this stronger.”