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11th July 2022

Hospice Virtual Ward expands to help more people stay at home with dignity

St Helena Hospice works closely with Bluebird Care Colchester and Tendring to provide free of charge personal care at home for people thought to be in their last 12 weeks of life, helping with their hygiene needs such as washing and mouth care, as well as providing support to the family at a difficult time.

Thanks to funding from East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), St Helena has recruited four more Virtual Ward healthcare assistants to expand the service, increasing its ‘bed’ capacity by four, meaning the team can now twice a day support 12 people with a prognosis of less than four weeks of life (formerly less than two weeks).

After four weeks, patients on the Virtual Ward are reviewed by St Helena’s specialist nurses and may be transferred to Bluebird Care Colchester and Tendring to continue personal care support for a further eight weeks.

Additionally, the length of time patients are supported has grown from six weeks to 12 weeks, with patients receiving up to four care visits throughout the day, depending on need and prognosis. If the patient stabilises after being on Virtual Ward for 12 weeks, they may be referred to NHS continuing healthcare or adult social care for their domiciliary support.

The expansion of the domiciliary service also means healthcare assistants from Bluebird Care Colchester and Tendring have increased capacity to care for patients thought to be in the last 12 weeks of life (formerly six weeks) by 50% to 45 hours of care per day, with each patient receiving up to four care visits throughout the day, which is the equivalent of 15 ‘beds’.

Patients and families on Virtual Ward have the added reassurance that the healthcare assistants are in daily contact with St Helena’s specialist nurses and SinglePoint rapid response team.

Between April 2021 and March 2022, Virtual Ward received 609 referrals.

Virtual Ward can help avoid unnecessary admissions to hospital. It also helps ease the pressures for hospital discharges by providing timely support so patients at the end of life can avoid delays and return home with care in place.

Becky Rix, Virtual Ward clinical nurse manager, said:

If someone’s personal preference is to be at home to die, Virtual Ward gives them that choice to remain at home with dignity.

“We help their loved ones to look after them at home, because without that personal care support, it's hard to look after your loved one 24/7.

“Having a professional coming into the home on a regular basis means someone is there keeping an eye on the patient and giving support to the person caring for them too. They know the healthcare assistants are attached to St Helena and can report any changes, concerns, or pain to our specialist nurses.

“We take the time to get to know our patients and what is important to them. Just the other evening, I went out with June, one of our healthcare assistants, to do an assessment, and the minute we walked in the front door June complimented the roses in the front garden. When the patient said they had not seen their garden in months because they were bed bound, June immediately popped back out and took a photo to show them, and that made their day.

“So the service makes such a huge impact for patients and families in many ways.

Virtual Ward is part of the Hospice in the Home support offered by St Helena and was piloted pre-pandemic with four ‘beds’ to support patients and families with domiciliary care. During Covid lockdown it soon became clear an expansion of the service would be needed to support the demand for end of life care at home, prompting an increase in ‘beds’ and the collaboration with Bluebird Care Colchester and Tendring in order to widen access to end of life support.

Krissy Rice, registered operations manager at Bluebird Care Colchester and Tendring, said:

It really is such a great honour to work with St Helena and to be able to help expand the service to reach more people at the end of life across north east Essex.

The knowledge that our healthcare assistants are helping people to achieve their preferred place of death, with the full support network of the hospice team there for them, is a continuous reassurance for patients and families that there is someone there for them 24 hours a day.

I remember the name of the first patient referred through from Virtual Ward. It's been such an incredible journey for us, we couldn't imagine life now without it; it's part of our everyday, it's part of our commitment to what we do.

People in need of any St Helena Hospice service can refer themselves for support, or their GP, health professional, carer or family member can refer them with their consent by completing the form online www.sthelena.org.uk/referrals or calling SinglePoint on 01206 890 360.

 

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