“It’s a demanding job anyway; the pandemic has just made it a bit more so”

DESPITE the daily onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic on every aspect of our lives, many in our community have continued stoically to carry out their work.

We have stood at our front doors to applaud the NHS for their unstinting efforts. A number of us have been furloughed from our employment, others have had to work from back bedrooms and sofas at home, many more are facing an uncertain work future and perhaps eventual unemployment.

We have endured the limitations of lock down. We all wash our hands diligently, queue up outside shops, wear masks But for some in our community, it requires all this and an awful lot more besides as they carry out their caring work patients at their end of their lives and their loved ones.

Caroline Roberts is one of those extra special people who have pulled on their PPE and carried on regardless amid the twists and turns over recent long months.

Mum of two teenagers Caroline, a qualified nurse for 21 years working for the past two years with Newport-based St David’s Hospice Care, said: “It’s a demanding job anyway, the pandemic has just made it a bit more so. But we are determined to provide that care no matter what. That’s what we do.”

Caroline, aged 43 and from Caerleon, works in the community caring for end-of-life patients in their homes.

She said: “We visit and support patients in their own home at various stages of their illness. We provide palliative care and give patients support at the end of their life, if that’s what they choose.

“Most of our patients are cancer patients but we have many patients with other illnesses and diseases like end-stage heart failure; end-stage respiratory failure and any disease, any condition that is non-curable and that is treatable.

“We try and support people and keep people as well as we can for as long as we can and then at the end stages of their life to give them support and care at home as well.

“It has obviously been more difficult wearing the personal protective equipment. It makes things really difficult in a job where communication is key to what we do. Hopefully we are still able to give that compassion and get that care across to people.”

Caroline previously worked at Newport’s Royal Gwent Hospital in the haematology unit where she was trained in chemotherapy and palliative care.

“I don’t feel that I am any different from anyone else as such but I’m very aware that people are feeling very isolated out there and I think all of us nurses feel the need to visit our patients as long as it’s safe to do so for them.

“Obviously there have been times where we need to give some telephone support but we try and visit as many patients as we can. We can’t get around the PPE so we just try and communicate and be as kind and compassionate as we can under those circumstances just like every other nurse and doctor going through this.

“Everybody is feeling the demands and pressures of the pandemic for sure and everybody is working out of their skin. District nurses, our GPs, our care homes and care staff out in the community and obviously the hospitals as well, so everybody has been hit hard by this and we’re all just sort of trying to do our best and maintain standards as normal.

“Being a working mum is difficult for lots of people and it is all a juggling act but I’m extremely lucky I’ve got a really supportive family. It’s business as usual really. It is just normal for them for mum to go out and do this job.

“Our focus, our main aim, is just to continue to try and provide the care that people need at home. It is obviously extremely important to us, our patients and their families that we have support and if people can just keep us in mind if they possibly can support us in any way that they can then we’d be so grateful.

“We don’t tend to consider ourselves as special people it’s a job that we love doing and we do get an awful lot back from it. Just being able to help somebody and just treating people how you would like to be treated yourself in those circumstances is always a good benchmark for me.”

Emma Saysell, chief executive officer of St David’s Hospice Care is full of praise for each and everyone of her team.

Emma said: “It’s been an incredibly difficult time for St David’s Hospice Care as I know many people appreciate. I can’t overemphasise how difficult it’s been for our clinical staff working in these truly difficult unprecedented times in an environment that none of us could really have ever imagined we’d be in.

“Our clinical staff are so very dedicated to patients and families that they want to continue to give that care that they’re so good at giving. It’s been so difficult with all the challenges that have faced them regarding all the health and safety issues they face when they into a patient’s home and most certainly in our inpatient unit as well.

“It’s really important in our line of work to make sure that we can communicate effectively with patients and families.

“Just the wearing of a mask brings a real barrier to that and our nurses have adapted amazingly. I think spending more time with patients and families to make sure that they feel supported and understand what’s going on in their lives at this particular time is difficult but so important.

“Obviously we’re really concerned about the safety of our staff. Our health and safety department is working really hard to make sure that we have the correct PPE. I must say that thankfully, with the support from the NHS, we’ve managed to do that.

“The toll it takes on a nurse on a on a day-to-day basis is really quite extreme. Nurses having to move from patient to patient, change all their PPE as they go.

“Nurses can perhaps be with a patient for eight hours overnight and have to wear PPE throughout. It is really challenging and just brings another barrier and another challenge for our staff.

“They are all working extremely hard. They are trying to work differently where they can. I know that our family support team, for example, have managed to find the many virtual platforms in order to support patients and families but ultimately, when a patient who’s reaching the end of their lives needs our support, we need to be there in person. We need to make sure that we’re able to deliver that care which thankfully, because of the dedication of all those staff, we are managing to achieve.

“Our retail and fundraising staff are also working really, really hard now the shops have reopened to try and income generate.

“It’s down to the communities of Gwent that we’ve been able to sustain our financial income, people have been so incredibly generous and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all the support they’ve given over recent months. Thank you all.”

The Newport-based hospice normally cares for some 1,200 patients on a daily basis. This number rocketed as the pandemic increased its grip on the community.

Mrs Saysell says Covid-19 meant the hospice faced the biggest challenge in its forty year history.

The hospice needs £8.5m a year to run its range of services including its inpatient hospice and day hospices.

The hospice, which has to fund 70 per cent of its clinical services through its events, which were all cancelled this year due to the pandemic and its shops, closed in lock down and in the firebreak, set up a just giving page in a bid to help fill the gap.