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Covid-19: How Weldmar’s 24/7 Advice Line is providing an extra lifeline in Dorset

How the good old telephone is proving to be a hero in these difficult times

In November 2018, Weldmar Hospicecare launched a brand new service for community patients and their carers – a dedicated telephone advice line, manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It’s proved to be a real success, with the number of people calling for support steadily increasing every month.  During the day, enquiries would be picked up by the next available Weldmar Community Nurse, and out of hours they would be diverted to our Inpatient Unit.

When the Covid-19 crisis hit, the emergency planning committee that came together at Weldmar identified the 24/7 Advice Line as not only a core service that must continue, but one that should be expanded to help not only people within our care and their loved ones, but other health providers in Dorset too.

“The idea for bring in the Advice Line in the first place,” says Director of Nursing, Caroline Sweetland (pictured), “was that any patient or carer who had a concern had one number that that could call anytime they needed to.  There were some frustrations at getting through on the non emergency 111 number, in having to answer lots of questions before getting to the problem.  With our own dedicated line, a member of the Weldmar team is on the other end, with full access to patient notes, so they can bring up their details straight away and provide help.”

A man said to me the other day on an out of hours call that it was ‘wonderful’ to have the reassurance of a ‘kind, calm’ voice at the end of the phone when his wife had taken a sudden, unexpected turn for the worse. He said “it made all the difference in the world” – Dr Helen Parsons

At the onset of the pandemic, an advice sheet was sent out to doctors’ surgeries, district nurses, care homes, and care agency staff across Dorset with the 24/7 Advice Line number, encouraging anyone who needed specialist palliative care advice to call.

As well as expanding who the service was available to, there have been changes made in the way it was operated, as Caroline explains: “In order to answer the calls in a timely fashion, and because the number of staff at the IPU was down, we made a decision to move it out of the IPU completely.  We set up a new team, with those doctors and specialist nurses who were self isolating, with all the systems they needed to operate the service from home.  It has worked really well, and things have been more manageable for the lower staff numbers on the IPU who no longer have to man the phone at night.”

A secondary service has also been started during the pandemic.  If a patient or carer calls who actually needs emotional support due to the difficult situation, then we have trained staff available to call them back for a longer chat.  This includes members of our Family Support Services team.

Examples of how the 24/7 Advice LIne has made a difference:

A daughter phoned seeking advice regarding her mother who was nearing end of life. Her mother had become very restless and unsettled. I was able to contact the District Nurse on call for the area, who visited and administered an injection which worked well in settling her mother, who was then very peaceful for the rest of the night.

A call from a District Nurse (DN) asking for advice regarding “Just in Case” medication for a patient who had recently been discharged from hospital for end of life care. The DN wanted advice regarding dosages of a specific medication, to ensure the lady was kept comfortable over the bank holiday weekend. The DN was not very familiar with the medication. I was able to give her specific, relevant advice for which she was very grateful. I later spoke to her again and she commented that it had been extremely helpful to have talked it through with me before talking to the doctor.

The elderly wife of a patient wanted to talk through her concerns regarding her husband’s symptoms, which had been developing over the past couple of days. Under normal circumstances they would have done they normally did when these symptoms developed, ie take him to A & E for a bladder washout and prescription for antibiotics. They did not wish to go to hospital in the current climate and he was too unwell to be moved anyway. Having established that he was currently comfortable, I advised that no immediate action was needed, but that I would contact the District Nurse team for them to follow this up the following morning. She and her son, who was with her during the phone call, felt reassured – the wife commented that she would be able to sleep better knowing that the issue could be resolved at home, which subsequently happened.

Weldmar Hospicecare continues to provide vital services like this throughout the Covid-19 crisis, but with our charity shops closed and many fundraising events cancelled, our income is significantly reduced.  You can help by donating to our Fundraising Appeal here.


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