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Covid-19: Life on the frontline as a Weldmar Community Nurse

Weldmar Community Nurses continue to provide an essential service in Dorset

The Weldmar Community Nursing team is still providing vital end of life care to patients across Dorset, despite the Covid-19 crisis.  What is daily life like for a WCN during these troubled times?

“I couldn’t be prouder of them”, says Caroline Sweetland, Director of Nursing at Weldmar Hospicecare.  “They have kept going throughout this, they are working flat out with patients, GPs and district nurses, and on our 24/7 Advice Line, maintaining a fantastic community service in Dorset.”

Right at the start of the outbreak, community nursing was identified, along with the Inpatient Unit, as a core service that had to continue, and unsurprisingly it’s become increasingly challenging for the team.

Caroline says, “Technology is being used where it possibly can.  The nurses will do video consultations using Microsoft Teams or WhatsApp so meetings can still be face to face, or make a phone call if that’s not possible.  But there are times where they do still need to go and visit a patient.  Before making that visit, they need to do an assessment on the risks, finding out if anyone in the house has symptoms.  If that’s the case, the nurse will wear Personal Protective Equipment, such as mask, apron and gloves, and in all cases they will maintain social distancing with the patient and family members.

“If we get a new patient referred to us, we will do a lot of the initial information gathering over the phone, and then make a shorter visit if necessary.

The team is also making use of the new Weldmar Connect app, which has recently been launched, where patients complete a daily questionnaire to record their symptoms and more.

“Changes to routine services and processes are proving to be a challenge.  For example, calling the usual number to arrange a care package for a new patient, they may discover the number is not in use and there is a new way of doing things, so they have to keep up with that.  Supplies of drugs are not a problem, but we are finding that we need to consider alternatives if our regular source is unable to provide what we need.

One of the hardest things for the nurses is the lack of physical contact.  Just a simple touch of an arm or the holding of a hand can provide so much comfort, which they can no longer do.  They have often built up a close rapport with the patient and their family, so they are having to adjust to doing things in a different way.

Not only do the Weldmar Community Nurses deal directly with patients, but they also work closely with community hospitals, GPs, and district nurses.  Smarter collaboration means that a WCN can alternate visits to a patient with these other healthcare providers where possible.

Not all of the community team are able to visit patients, due to being in the ‘at risk’ groups themselves, or living with people who would be particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.  Their specialist knowledge and expertise is still being utilised, as they can man the 24/7 Advice Line.  Calls can be redirected to their own home, where they can have access to patient notes.  The Advice Line is not just a resource for patients, but GPs and district nurses can also call to get specialist palliative care advice.

“I know this anyway”, says Caroline, “but you really get a sense of how much nurses put their heart into this job.  They have their own health and families to worry about, but they are still going out and trying to do the right thing by their patients day after day, and even helping raise the profile of our fundraising appeal on their own Facebook pages”.

Lucy Moxham (pictured) is a WCN based in the South team, and she says the current situation has challenges which are both practical and emotional.  “Emotionally it is surprisingly hard. We are very used to dealing with emotions in our palliative care roles, but during these unprecedented times, we are dealing with heightened levels of anxiety from patients, their loved ones, and other professionals involved in their care. This has increased our workload at a time when resources are becoming incredibly stretched. However, we continue to strive to provide as much support as we can, including essential visits to our most vulnerable patients.”

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