Covid: Why end-of-life nurses at Nightingale and Royal London were so upset passing on last messages

PUBLISHED: 09:21 16 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:42 16 July 2020

Nurse Emma Leahy with a Covid-19 patient. Picture: NHS

Nurse Emma Leahy with a Covid-19 patient. Picture: NHS


Nurses who normally deal with “end of life” organ donations have been involved in helping some of the sickest patients and their families when they volunteered to return to the NHS frontline covid-19 emergency.

Emma Leahy... Emma Leahy... "Not being able to see loved ones face-to-face for families is heart-breaking." Picture: NHS

Members of the NHS Blood and Transplant specialist team used their skills in intensive care units across London, including the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, the Nightingale in the Royal Docks and St Bartholemew’s in the City.

They are trained in having difficult “end of life” conversations with families in their normal line of work and utilised these skills in the Covid wards, even sadly passing on last messages from patients in intensive care who their next of kin would never see again.

Lucy Dames volunteered as part of a family liaison team at the Nightingale which has been the link between patients and families.

“I will never forget the experience in the last 12 weeks working in the Nightingale,” she recalled.

“What I found challenging was breaking bad news in conversations over the phone.

Lucy Dames volunteered at the Nightingale... Lucy Dames volunteered at the Nightingale... "What was challenging was breaking bad news over the phone... transcribing messages was upsetting." Picture: NHS

“The social distancing measures made it difficult. Some dying patients couldn’t be visited because their relatives were themselves isolating.”

She added: “Transcribing some of the messages to them was quite upsetting.”

You may also want to watch:

People asked for locks of hair or handprints of family and friends they knew they wouldn’t see again.

Some staff have isolated themselves from their own families for weeks to step into the frontline roles.

Royal London... where some end-of-life specialist nurses volunteered during Covid emergency. Picture: Mike BrookeRoyal London... where some end-of-life specialist nurses volunteered during Covid emergency. Picture: Mike Brooke

Betsy Bassis, chief executive at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “They did it with humility and courage, an extraordinary commitment to the extremely difficult job of providing end-of-life Covid-19 care.”

Another specialist nurse who volunteered was Emma Leahy, isolated from her own family to help tackle the pandemic emergency.

She recalled: “We realised patients were missing the family connection from their care.

“I was offering ‘virtual visits’ to families who couldn’t physically be with their loved ones because of the social distancing measures.”

But Emma was also bringing patients who had a fighting chance of survival together with their kinfolk.

“Seeing their families on video chat was the boost they needed to kickstart their recovery,” Emma said.

“Not being able to see loved ones face-to-face during such a difficult time is heart-breaking, but even the smallest gestures such as hand holding or saying a prayer meant everything to them.”

This also meant passing on final words from a family to their loved one, an upsetting role even for nurses trained in end-of-life care.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the East London Advertiser. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the East London Advertiser