Our ‘Magic Moment’ award ceremony has always been an important date in the diary but at the end of a testing 2020, it felt extra special taking time out to celebrate the incredible work of the various departments that make up our Hospital and Hospice.
Sarah Beshir, our much-loved Infection Control Nurse (pictured above), won the overall individual award while the staff of St John’s Hospice Inpatient Unit sealed the team prize. After their certificates were handed out, we caught up with the winners for a quick chat.
“It’s very rewarding,” said Sarah, when asked how it felt to be recognised by her peers. “I was quite emotional when I heard I had won. I like supporting people but I wasn’t sure if I was a fitting winner!”
The last time Sarah featured on these pages, she did so a year ago as one of our Hospital Heroes. On that occasion, she took the time to explain the day-to-day duties involved in infection control. It’s fair to say, she wasn’t expecting to face a global pandemic within a couple of months of starting her new role.
“When we chatted a year ago, I was a newly appointed Infection Control Nurse,” she reflected.
“It was quite scary walking straight into a pandemic. Back in March, it was a really massive challenge for staff and patients but with experience you become more resilient and focused.”
From “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” to “Wash Hands, Cover Face, Make Space” the whole country was quickly educated on the importance of minimising contact with others to lower the COVID-19 transmission rate.
On the frontlines, the fine print of the health and safety protocols changed repeatedly in those early weeks. “The government guidance kept changing all the time, twice a day on some occasions,” Sarah noted.
“That raised anxiety for everyone and made you question what you were doing. You couldn’t help but ask why things were changing. We’ve come a long way since then, it’s significantly different now.
“In March, everything was new, it was quite difficult. When the second wave and third wave came we were more empowered, more aware of what to do and more prepared. The staff have been far less anxious recently.”
Despite infection numbers spiking in January, St John & St Elizabeth Hospital has remained open throughout the winter for pre-booked appointments. Sarah and her team have been responsible for the implementation of a host of measures that ensure staff and patients are completely safe when on site.
“I think our infection control measures have been at the highest level,” she said. “Our Hospital is definitely safe, we’re on top of COVID-19 all the time. From social distancing to cleaning and screening, every day we put in so much effort to ensure we’re complying with our standards. And we continue to explain the rules to our staff and patients, why they must wash their hands, why they must wear a mask, why there are no visitors allowed. We’re all on the same page from the management to the cleaning staff thanks to the right training. We’re strict…strict, strict, strict, strict!”
With so much at stake, it can’t have been easy trying to outwit the virus on a day-to-day basis. Sarah credits the support of her colleagues and a regular exercise routine as key to minimising stress.
“I like to go jogging after work and on the weekends,” she revealed. “I tend to go with my kids, it’s been really helpful. We also have lots of things going on with the Hospital, like online yoga classes given by our colleagues. We’re really supported. We have lots of Zoom catch-ups between departments. For example, at Christmas, we had a special gift unwrapping call. It’s been really nice.”
All going to plan, 2021 should mark a change in fortunes for us all. Hopes rest on a successful vaccine. “The hope is obviously that the pandemic ends soon, absolutely,” said Sarah. “We want everybody vaccinated quickly and then we can start to get back to normal. We’ll soon see each other and hold each other once again.”
St John’s Hospice, Inpatient Unit
The team at St John’s Hospice Inpatient Unit with their certificate
Getting back to some form of normality is definitely high on the agenda at St John’s Hospice following a rollercoaster 10 months.
Both on-site and in the community, our Hospice team has worked wonders adapting to the pandemic to continue providing best-in-class physical, emotional and spiritual care to the vulnerable.
Despite the COVID-19 disruption, it’s also notable that an extensive refurbishment of our Inpatient Unit has taken place along the way. Started the day before national lockdown restrictions were imposed back in March, it was completed inside eight months. The opening in October was a glimmer of light in a year of much darkness and stands as a physical manifestation of our mantra: ‘Putting People First’.
For their tireless efforts, which included temporarily moving patients to the St Francis Ward while the refurb project took place, the Inpatient Unit team at St John’s were very worthy winners of the overall departmental Magic Moment award.
“The recognition meant a lot after the hard year we’ve had in 2020,” said Giulia Massa, Interim Head of the team.
“During the early days of the pandemic, the Hospice was one of the only wards to stay open. Not only did we have the patients to care for but the families were also asking lots of questions about COVID-19 and what it meant for them and visiting.
“We’ve been working non-stop to look after patients requiring symptom control care, respite care and end-of-life care.
“Normally the role of our nurses is to make sure the patients are comfortable and without pain or other symptoms. They help with personal hygiene, eating and drinking and making sure basic care needs are met. But during COVID, because the social worker team has been so busy, they have also supported the psychological needs of the patients.”
To help with the workload, nurses from the Hospital were recruited to the Hospice Inpatient Unit where they were brought up to speed by the regulars. Seven of the new faces took on regular shifts while others offered their services when they could. Giulia believes the partnership will have long-term benefits.
“We had to teach them what priority care means and the specifics of the role, it required a lot of work but it was really, really important having those nurses coming to support us in the Hospice. It helped to break down the barriers between departments and improve communication. We’re all more familiar with each other now and have a proper working relationship.”
Unable to socialise in the normal way outside of work, the Inpatient Unit turned to technology to support each other.
“Because of the restrictions in place, we’ve not been able to go out together as a team but we’ve had a Whatsapp group that we’ve used a lot to stay in touch,” Giulia revealed.
“It was created to communicate important updates but has been used for so much more. People can express how they feel, we share jokes and memes to bring up morale, it’s ended up being like a support group.”
Giulia also had warm words for the Hospice’s very generous volunteers and admits they’ve been sorely missed during the pandemic’s peaks.
“We didn’t have them during the first lockdown but when the restrictions were lifted in the summertime, they returned and were extremely helpful. They really help a lot, not just with the practical side of things but stopping and having a chat with the guys in reception or supporting with things like making coffees. At the moment, we really miss them.”
The current restrictions haven’t just robbed St John’s of friendly faces and helping hands. With our charity shops closed and big-ticket fundraising events cancelled, it has also been an uphill struggle to secure the £6.9 million we need to provide our care free of charge. According to Giulia, we need your help now more than ever.
“We’ve all been hit by this pandemic in one way or another but we are particularly reliant on the support of our community to provide the care that we do.
“The Hospice delivers critical care for patients towards the end of their life and having enough funds and resources gives us an opportunity to provide them with the care that those people deserve.”
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