Sharon is a compassionate leader

30th October 2021

Northern health social care trust

The model of bereavement support has needed to change since the onset of the pandemic in order to respond in a timely way to the needs of bereaved people, who could not visit their loved one or had restricted visiting. Normal funeral arrangements were not happening so it became increasingly important as a Trust to show compassion to the citizens and local community. Due to Covid-19, volunteer activity on the wards was paused, which left the Macmillan Volunteer Coordinator available. She was approached to see if she would take a key role in a project, funded by Helpforce and Marie Curie to offer telephone calls to those who experienced bereavement where their loved one died in one of the Trust hospitals. She would be responsible for coordinating volunteers to make these calls. Sharon did not hesitate and agreed to take this position. She quickly adapted and within six weeks the innovative service was operational. In preparation she had to engage with informatics to agree the best information system and processes to securely send personal details remotely, as both her and the volunteers would be working from home. Through organising a process mapping day with informatics, it was clear that staff would need to adapt to new ways of working, with innovative technology needed to facilitate remote working. However, working alongside informatics, a secure IT system was agreed and implemented. This proved challenging as Sharon had to learn completely new systems and then she patiently guided the volunteers through learning these also. Normally volunteers would be selected and recruited face-to-face. Sharon had to quickly adapt to recruit and support volunteers remotely.

She had to learn new IT skills such as Zoom, and this was utilised for selection meetings, all training and supervision. This was new learning for both the coordinator and the volunteers as they had varying levels of IT skills. Sharon collaborated with other stakeholders, to include Cruse Bereavement Care, to advertise, host selection meetings and recruit 11 volunteers initially, developing and co-delivering their training and induction via Zoom. A steering group was established to support this work, with Sharon presenting a monthly report on activity and sharing anonymous case studies with the stakeholders for learning. Small cycles of change were made based on feedback from volunteers and identified need. The volunteers highlighted the need for a BCC leaflet, which was quickly developed and shared with the volunteers and readers panel for their views. This is included in the bereavement pack given to bereaved families.

A proportion of bereavement calls were not achieved, prompting the development of an ‘insert’ to the bereavement pack inviting families to get in touch if they needed support. It was also agreed that a distress protocol should be developed which Sharon then took to volunteers before it was finalised, to ensure it met their needs. This can be initiated by the volunteer when individuals are particularly distressed. Sharon is available to the volunteers following any difficult calls to provide support and debriefing and to take any difficult matters forward.

During their call to bereaved families the volunteer will note any specific feedback that is mentioned, which is communicated to Sharon, who shares this with ward staff. Ward staff have expressed how positive feedback has been very encouraging, as despite the challenges faced, families value the care provided and issues raised have enabled service improvement. Some issues have included queries regarding location of property, or collection of equipment, Sharon has gone above and beyond to deal with these as they arise, to reduce any undue distress for families. During the winter surge in the pandemic, there was an increase in the number of deaths, with volunteers needing to make a large number of calls weekly. Along with the bereavement coordinator, Sharon took on many of these calls herself. Whilst dealing with this volume during January, she also began a recruitment campaign for more volunteers, with eight additional volunteers recruited and inducted and commencing in the service by February. This enabled the pressure on existing volunteers to be eased. However once they had rested, as the project now had some more capacity, Sharon led her volunteers as the project was scaled from the Trust acute hospitals to include community hospital, in addition to further follow up call being offered to families. The BCC service has been positively received by service users with a great deal of organic positive feedback by those who have experienced the call. They have expressed being overwhelmed with the kindness shown by the volunteers and the Trust. Sharon and her team of volunteers work tirelessly to ensure those bereaved feel supported, offering a compassionate, listening call, giving practical advice and signposting to appropriate services, during very lonely and distressing times. Throughout this, Sharon also ensures the health and wellbeing of the volunteers at all times.

She has an open door policy and provides valuable ongoing daily support to the volunteers. This can be telephone or email support or via a WhatsApp group, which she initiated. A large volume of daily communication occurs between Sharon and the volunteers. Sharon facilitates monthly group supervision, and also one-to-one supervision as per Trust policy, but particularly as requested by a volunteer, often but not always, following difficult bereavement calls, where volunteers are offered compassionate support and de-briefing as required. Sharon encourages the volunteers in self-care and has given them access to the I-matter website, the health and wellbeing site for Trust staff, as well as additional development and training opportunities as they have arisen. In collaboration with the health and wellbeing team and the steering group, Sharon organised that the volunteers were recognised for being active during the pandemic, by receiving a wellbeing pack and access to connect and relaxation sessions. Also during ‘volunteer week’ each volunteer was sent a self-care pack which they were very grateful for. Sharon and the team’s ethos is steeped in the core values of the Trust, displaying compassion, kindness, excellence, openness and team working at all levels of service delivery.

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