2020 – A year of challenge, change and new beginnings for the Integrated Support, Social Welfare and Bereavement Team
Told by Dawn Trigg, Lead Macmillan Specialist Palliative Care Social Worker
At the start of 2020, the Integrated Support, Social Welfare and Bereavement Team had four staff vacancies. Following a review of posts we recruited a Bereavement Service Coordinator, Bereavement Caseworker, Hospice Senior Palliative Care Social Worker, Macmillan Assistant Social Welfare Officer (cover for maternity leave) and a Macmillan Palliative Care Social Worker. These new team members along with existing staff make up our current team.
In March 2020, with the arrival of COVID-19 little did we know the virus would substantially change working practices, requiring the team to adopt remote working and a reliance on telephone and virtual means of communication. We were introduced to virtual platforms Zoom and Microsoft Teams, enabling us to see colleagues and patients over the screen to help us keep in touch via virtual means. Face to face visits with patients in the community and the Hospice required risk assessments and wearing of PPE, with visits only when all other means of communication had been tried. Some interviews for our staff vacancies and subsequent staff inductions also took place virtually.
The team quickly bonded despite the many difficulties we faced, a can-do attitude emerged to delivering pre-bereavement, social welfare, spiritual care and bereavement services, albeit in a Covid safe way. There are numerous case examples of the integrated team working together with other end of life services and external agencies to improve life experiences of patients and their family during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Integrated Team achievements this year include:
- During the early months existing staff continued to deliver services despite a high level of staff vacancies.
- Social Workers, Bereavement Coordinator and Spiritual Care Lead completed PAABS suicide bereavement training (Specialist training funded via Humber Coast and Vale Suicide Prevention Steering group).
- Emotional and Bereavement support provided to care home staff during the first and second waves of COVID-19, helping managers and staff cope with loss and the sudden death of many of their residents.
- The Social Welfare team supported patients to claim relevant benefits and families with substantially reduced income due to cancer, palliative illness, furlough, or loss of employment as a result of COVID-19 to maximise their income. They also supported families experiencing funeral poverty, following a family member’s sudden death leaving no funds to pay for their funeral. At Christmas the Humberston Lions Charity donated vouchers which the team distributed to vulnerable families, enabling them to buy food. The team also supported with benefit appeals and housing issues in complex cases.
- The Spiritual Care Lead and volunteers supported patients (adults and children) emotionally with existential issues, domestic violence, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s), questions about living with terminal illness and impact on individual’s lives of COVID-19. The Spiritual Care Lead shared reflections for Andy’s Children’s Memory Day and St. Andrews Light up a Life events, delivered for the first time virtually via YouTube and Facebook. The Spiritual Care Lead also contributed to the NHS England service mapping process to improve end of life care services ensuring the inclusion of spiritual care for all. Other projects included joint work with Open Door to improve access for homeless patients to end of life care services and the establishment of an inter faith forum to enable spiritual care support to be offered by all faiths in the community.
- The Bereavement team continued to support adults and children with bereavement issues, including losses from years past and losses that either involved deaths directly related to COVID-19 or were impacted by changes to procedures and rituals necessitated to keep people safe from the virus. The team supported a number of adults and children who were emotionally distressed and indicated a real intent to end their lives. This involved working closely with the suicide prevention partnership group members, mental health, and psychology services and enabled the individuals to access the help and support they needed.
- The social work team supported patients (adults and children) and their families’ pre- and post-bereavement to develop skills to cope with the emotional impact of a terminal diagnosis and come to terms with this. They also dealt with complex family circumstances, relationship issues, domestic violence, adult and children’s safeguarding, mental capacity matters and enabled access to services including legal support when needed. BIG Hearts young carers group (for children whose parents have a terminal illness) celebrated our 10th Whilst face to face celebrations had to be postponed, we continued to support members using Zoom enabling the children to share their lockdown stories and celebrate Christmas with a Zoom party. Additionally, the team provided bereavement support for families accessing the hospice Butterfly Suite and parents who had experienced the death of their baby or child, which had been sudden or unexpected.
- The integrated team also has a role in providing education for health and social care professionals. Although face-to-face training has not been possible due to COVID-19 restrictions, members have continued to deliver education to Andy’s Children’s Unit, schools, other agencies including Open Minds, Older People’s Mental Health team, a Humber Coast and Vale bereavement webinar, Hull York Medical School students, Macmillan Teams and Hospice staff.
It goes without saying 2020 was an extremely challenging year for us all. However, as individuals and as a new team it was brilliant to see how everyone rose to the challenge and worked closely together to achieve the very best outcomes for the patients and their families we work with. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their efforts last year, as these successes were achieved whilst we as individuals continued to live our own lives, which were also impacted by COVID-19.