Setting up a pandemic preparation team to tackle the situation, staff designed new ways of delivering services in a matter of weeks.
When news of the COVID-19 pandemic began reaching us, teams at Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS) recognised the need for rapid change to their services. Supporting 500 families and their children with life-shortening conditions across Scotland, staff knew that they would have to create a coordinated response and adapt to new circumstances.
Setting up a pandemic preparation team to tackle the situation, staff designed new ways of delivering services in a matter of weeks. A main response was to protect families in relation to social distancing measures, particularly to aid with the shielding of vulnerable children. The organisation has concentrated their hospice operations on end of life and crisis care, meaning those needs will continue to be met. However, this means many families are no longer accessing hospice support.
The results for families in terms of missing out on hospice support is that they are isolated and trying to cope with worry and practicalities around the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. With children at home full time and little respite, the needs of families within the home have increased and CHAS has been successful in finding innovative ways of providing support.
The newly rolled out virtual hospice service now offered by the organisation is providing families with all of the necessary input across a number of areas. For many it is practical support that is needed around finances and CHAS’ Welfare Advisor has been crucial in providing information and support on benefits and income maximisation.
However, the core services offered by CHAS have also been translated into virtual offerings. Medical care is provided through consultations on Attend Anywhere and Near Me and pharmacist advice and prescribing are available online further allowing families to shield their children. The virtual hospice service is holistic in nature with a variety of other services being offered including activities and entertainment.
Families are facing isolation and CHAS is filling the gaps online. A private YouTube channel has been set up by the activities team and Clown Doctors, an integral part of CHAS’ hospice services, are visiting families virtually to continue their impactful work. Nurses are also providing kindness calls as often as families require, keeping communication and support going throughout this time.
Rami Okasha, CEO of CHAS said: “This is an incredibly difficult time for everyone, particularly for families caring for children who will die young. CHAS will be alongside those families in every way we can and that’s where our virtual hospice comes in… For families who can’t come to the hospice, we will take our hospice to them”.
The changes the teams at CHAS are implementing go beyond virtual offerings. In terms of on the ground support at home, CHAS nurses are taking more of a role in care where NHS and local authority teams are stretched responding to COVID-19. On the horizon is the potential to have CHAS nurses working in the NHS providing integrated teams with the third sector and NHS working together.
Reflecting on the success of the teams at CHAS in responding to COVID-19 Sue Hogg, Director for Children and Families, said: “The staff have been incredible, this is uncharted and when I look back I think we have done quite a lot, we’ve reshaped the service in a few weeks. I think we did recognise early on that this was something we had to be planning for, planning for the worst and hoping for the best”.
The third sector is renowned for its agility and responsiveness and CHAS has embodied these qualities in its response to COVID-19. By providing the virtual hospice service, the organisation is effectively continuing in its high level of support to families against a backdrop of challenging circumstances. Swift action has paid off and families across the country are getting the much needed support they require at this crucial time.