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Hospice celebrates 10 years of 24/7 support at home for people facing incurable illness

St Helena Hospice is celebrating the 10th anniversary of SinglePoint; its 24 hours a day 7 days a week phone support and rapid response service, for people living with incurable illness.

Expert nurses trained in palliative care are on the end of the phone to give advice and support, and rapid response nurses or other professionals may visit people in crisis at home day and night. 

The SinglePoint phoneline went live on 23rd September 2013 to provide a single point of access to information and help for local people with, or caring for somebody with, an incurable diagnosis and a prognosis of the last 12 months of life.

Within months, the service expanded to be available 24/7, and over the decade has been dubbed a lifeline by the patients, families and carers who access the support.

In the first seven months of the service, SinglePoint received more than 13,000 calls.

In 2022/23 there were 45,544 calls to SinglePoint and 1,588 SinglePoint rapid response home visits.

Nicky Coombes, matron of Hospice in the Home at St Helena, said:

“People may be frightened to phone or be worried they are disturbing someone out of hours, but we have professionals on shift day and night to help. If all the nurses are on calls or out on visits to other people in crisis, please don’t be afraid to leave a message and we aim to reply within two hours.

“The SinglePoint nurses work as part of our hospice in the home team alongside colleagues in rehabilitation, medical and other St Helena teams. We also work closely with GPs, community and district nurses and other health and social care professionals, to help the families get the support they need, where they need it, when they need it.” 

Anyone aged from 16 in north east Essex or the Colne Valley area of mid Essex, living with incurable illness as a patient, family or carer, can contact SinglePoint at any time; they do not have to already be under the care of St Helena Hospice.

People can also contact SinglePoint by phone or online to refer themselves or a loved one to any St Helena Hospice service, or a GP or health professional can refer them with the patient’s consent. If after assessment it’s not the right service for the person, then the SinglePoint team will point them in the right direction for help elsewhere. 

Ten years after the first call on 23rd September 2013, three nurses still with St Helena Hospice, remember opening day. 

Nichole Hockett, SinglePoint clinical nurse manager, took the first call:

“The phone rang and we each said ‘you answer it, no you answer it!’ We were really excited about the new service and didn't really know what to expect by the first person calling; what were they going to be calling about, how were we going to help them?

“When you’re living with illness, everything seems to happen on a weekend or out of hours when there's nobody else around, so for people to have just one number and know there's somebody at the end of the phone, is invaluable for them. I can't believe that we ever functioned without it; I don't want to imagine a world without SinglePoint in palliative care!”

Sitting next to Nichole that evening was registered nurse Felicity Callely, who took the second call and remembers feeling nervous as the phone rang:

“I'll never forget that first day. It was a really complex call and somebody was very distressed and in pain, I could hear them in the background and I was so glad I was there to help. 

“During phone consultations or rapid response visits we have various reactions from people. Sometimes people are so distraught because things are changing quickly with their loved one who may be dying, and other times it can be very relaxed where they're listening to advice.

“It's lovely for me as a nurse to think that I've made a little bit of a difference for the family; it's such a rewarding job to have.”

Ross Chirgwin, non-medical prescriber and clinical nurse specialist, was also on that first shift:

“It was a really exciting day not only for St Helena Hospice but for the whole local area. I don't think I saw how needed this service was until it actually started and developed. Previously in the community people facing incurable illness had multiple numbers to call and it was very confusing for them, so setting up the SinglePoint service to have one telephone number has just been amazing. 

“A big part of my role now is visiting patients with very complex needs and people who need urgent symptom control. There's a sense of relief when I turn up at someone’s home; I’m there to take over the situation and for them it’s knowing there's someone there to help. 

“As nurses, we're really lucky that we get time with people to give them reassurance and allow them to ask questions, and really give them the time that they need.”

Caroline Sutton is a SinglePoint call handler and before that worked as a healthcare assistant both in the Hospice and out in the community with our Hospice in the Home. When someone phones SinglePoint, call handlers are usually the first person they hear:

“I love the job. No day is ever the same because everybody's needs are different. I've been on the other side of the phone twice myself. A few years ago I referred my dad into SinglePoint because I wanted my mum to have somewhere that, if she needed to, she could phone. My dad died in the Hospice a few months later when I was working there, so I was just extremely grateful he was getting the care that I know we give. 

“A year later, I phoned up SinglePoint one New Year's Eve for my mother-in-law and they took her referral over the phone, and once SinglePoint was involved, a lot of things changed. 

“It's a very important service for people just to have that one number so they don't have to get confused with a great deal of other services. SinglePoint can sort most things out or we can put them in the right direction.”

Contact SinglePoint 24 hours a day 7 days a week on 01206 890 360, or people whose preferred language is British Sign Language can communicate with SinglePoint nurses from their home by clicking the ‘BSL Live’ button at the top of the St Helena website to be connected to a registered interpreter from SignVideo, who will then confidentially relay the conversation live between the caller and SinglePoint.

Image: SinglePoint team

Some of the SinglePoint team (l-r) Rachel Hill, senior staff nurse; Helen Moore, clinical nurse specialist; Caroline Sutton, call handler; Ross Chirgwin, clinical nurse specialist; Sarah McGowan, senior staff nurse

Image: Nichole Hockett, SingelPoint

Nichole Hockett, SinglePoint clinical nurse manager

Image: Felicity Callely, SinglePoint

Felicity Callely, registered nurse

Image: Ross Chirgwin, SinglePoint

Ross Chirgwin, non-medical prescriber and clinical nurse specialist


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