As we enter the second national lockdown, Rowcroft Hospice is experiencing an increasing demand for its end-of-life care services in South Devon.

Over recent months, the charity’s Hospice at Home service has been flooded by a surge in demand.

Referrals to its community team - which offers services such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and bereavement support - have also steadily climbed to reach extremely high levels.

As the winter approaches, the hospice is bracing for an even greater demand for its care.

This comes at a time when Rowcroft’s income has been badly affected by the pandemic – through the cancellation of its mass-participation fundraising events and the temporary closure of its charity shops and cafes across the region during the first lockdown.

Income is now being hit again by the re-closure of its shops due to the four-week national lockdown.

Lack of income, coupled with an escalating demand for end-of-life care in South Devon, are exacerbating pressures on the charity.

“Prior to the pandemic, we were already anticipating a rise in the numbers of those needing palliative care, due to our increasingly ageing population,” says Vicky Bartlett, deputy director of patient care and professional lead at Rowcroft Hospice.

“However, as this second wave of Covid-19 takes grip, we are witnessing soaring demand, particularly for our Hospice at Home service – so much so that on occasions we have been unable to accept referrals due to us reaching the maximum number of people we can support.

“Over the coming months, we anticipate even greater pressures on our services, particularly as people who are fearful to go to hospital - due to a growing number of Covid-19 cases in the area - will prefer to be cared for at home.”

Rowcroft Hospice provides specialist nursing care, advice and emotional support to people with life-limiting illnesses and their families across South Devon.

While the hospice has a small inpatient unit in Torquay, around 80 per cent of its patients are cared for in their own homes, as per their wishes.

Rowcroft’s nurses and care teams on the frontline are working hard to meet patients’ needs, but the charity is facing numerous pandemic-related challenges.

Along with a significant reduction in income, other major challenges facing the hospice include staff shortages due to colds and self-isolation; staff fatigue – exacerbated by the difficulties of coping with the pandemic for so many months; and concerns regarding the sourcing of clinical masks and gloves due to national shortages.

“Morale and fatigue are very real issues for all those who work in a healthcare setting, and we are working hard to ensure all our staff and volunteers have the support they need,” said Vicky.

“We have a finite resource of staff here delivering care, so any additional challenges really put pressure on our teams, but we are all working hard to pull together and to support each other.

“This is successfully aided by our superfluid strategy whereby staff work flexibly across teams to offer support where the need is greatest, and we are currently trying to recruit more clinical staff.”

The flu season could also potentially put more pressure on Rowcroft’s clinical teams, hence the hospice is offering free flu vaccination to all staff.

Despite the endless challenges and pressures caused by Covid-19, Rowcroft’s clinical teams are continuing to provide expert care, putting patients’ needs and choices at the very heart of the care that they receive.

“For our patients and families facing the most difficult days imaginable, our staff are making such a positive difference, even during these extremely challenging times. For example, where family members are shielding and therefore unable to visit patients in the hospice, we’ve been helping patients to connect to their loved ones through technology. Just recently, one patient listened to soothing poetry read by his wife over the phone, while he peacefully passed away in our Inpatient Unit. Despite the difficult circumstances, we’re doing everything we can to keep patients and their loved ones united.”

Rowcroft’s staff and volunteers demonstrate an incredible resilience and a highly professional work ethic. Patient safety remains a top priority and is at the centre of all Rowcroft’s policies and procedures.

“We have so many measures in place to keep everyone safe on the frontline of care,” says Vicky. “And we feel we are better prepared now than we were when we faced the crisis back in March. For this second wave, we already have rigorous safety procedures in place: we have well-established practices with regard to cleaning and infection control; our care teams are accustomed to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE); our patients and families are familiar with hand sanitising, social distancing and wearing face coverings when required to; and we are becoming well-practised at carrying out patient consultations remotely via video link where possible, or by telephone, in order to prevent any infection risk to patients and families.

“With all this in mind, we feel we are well-prepared to weather this storm.

“While we brace ourselves for the full force of the second wave, we are exceedingly thankful to all those in our local community who are continuing to stand strong by our side. We cannot thank everyone enough for their support. We know we have some tough months ahead, and we’re very much hoping that together we will come through this stronger.”

For information about how you can support Rowcroft during this crisis, call 01803 210800 or log on to www.rowcrofthospice.org.uk