Family Liaison service help patients stay connected with their loved ones
28th November 2020
Submitted by Michelle Lobo, Portsmouth Hospitals University Trust
We recognised from the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic that we faced a large number of challenges in keeping our patients and families connected during a time of restricted visiting and nationwide uncertainty. The key aspects we considered were:
• Restricted visiting,
• Potential patient distress,
• Patients reaching the end of their life,
• Patients receiving bad news,
• Anticipated impact of pandemic upon clinical workload and staffing numbers,
• How to manage incoming telephone calls from concerned loved ones, and
• Supporting teams on the wards to release their time for clinical care.
We wanted to provide a link between the patient, their loved ones and our wards, and to ensure a welfare and emotional wellbeing check for both the patient and their loved ones during the pandemic.
We introduced a team of Family Liaison Officers (FLOs), recruited from existing Trust employees, to support inpatients on wards for the duration of the visiting restrictions.
To complement and support the FLO role, we also recruited volunteers to strengthen the service (Family Liaison Volunteers - FLVs). This is proving very successful and we have benefitted from their additional skills and experience. The FLVs are integral to our Family Liaison team and together we have our training programme to enhance skills and knowledge, with regular weekly sessions of themed topics for learning (such as Mental Health Awareness, Dementia Awareness, Safeguarding, etc.) along with debrief and sharing experiences. Topics are chosen by the team as a whole and many suggestions and improvements to the FLO service have been made by our volunteers and implemented successfully. A great recent example of this would be the use of additional mobile phones – we were finding that the ward phones were in constant use and often our Family Liaison team had to wait before they could connect a patient by phone with their loved one. One of our FLVs investigated and found that there were unused mobile phones available elsewhere within hospital services and proposed their use as a solution to this problem – along with sourcing durable, wipe-clean covers so they met local ward infection prevention standards. These phones are now proving invaluable!
The role continues to provide an essential link between patients, loved ones and wards. Creative ways to maintain communication were designed and piloted by the FLOs & FLVs, notably supporting patients to make calls through iPads and facilitating messages received from family and friends. One of our ward teams, comprising a FLO and a FLV working in partnership, filmed and produced a training video on using the iPads for video calls – and this is now available on every iPad the team use for easy reference.
As a whole, the Family Liaison team have been welcomed and supported by ward and clinical teams, and recognised by the CQC. The team is considered vital to our patients and families.
The team adapts to different situations patients are facing and regularly facilitates calls, enabling virtual participation in family weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and funerals, as well as holding birthday celebrations for inpatients on the wards.
The feedback received from the staff has been really positive, providing evidence of time released to care for patients, and of how often the presence of a FLO/FLV enhanced the team dynamics during a very stressful period.
“I would just like to say how utterly impressed I have been with W – our Family Liaison – she is the most important person on the ward, and the joy she gives patients and families when they Zoom is so special and so fantastic for the ward – thank you.”
“I appreciate the continued brilliant care Dad is receiving. The video is a fab idea as we love to see our loved one even under such difficult circumstances. Goodness knows how you all are coping but you are all stars.” From the daughter of a patient.
We have also introduced ‘Essentials Boxes’ to supply basic toiletries, reading materials, puzzles and other items to ensure comfort and dignity (e.g.: Fixodent provided to a patient who had his false teeth but nothing to secure them, and new batteries for hearing aids). This is particularly helpful when a patient arrives as an emergency admission.
The success of the Family Liaison service throughout this pandemic has been greatly enhanced by the hard work, kindness and commitment of our volunteers. We work as one team together and plan to continue with this very special service for the foreseeable future. The only difference is that their salaries are measured in the smiles they put on our patients’ faces and the thanks they receive from our patients' loved ones.
That is why they thoroughly deserve to be on your Wall of Fame.
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