Covid: Why end-of-life nurses at Nightingale and Royal London were so upset passing on last messages
- Credit: 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.
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.
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“What I found challenging was breaking bad news in conversations over the phone.
“The social distancing measures made it difficult. Some dying patients couldn’t be visited because their relatives were themselves isolating.”
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She added: “Transcribing some of the messages to them was quite upsetting.”
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.
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.