High Peak's Blythe House Hospice reflects on how demand for services has changed during a year in lockdown

As the country approaches the anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown, Chapel-en-le-Frith’s Blythe House Hospice has been reflecting on how services had to change and how demand for those who wished to die at home has doubled.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 7:00 am

“It’s been a year like no other,” says Shane O'Reilly, clinical services manager for Blythe House which has seen the hours per month of Hospice at Home care go from 800 last year to almost 1,800 since lockdown started.

He said: “There has been a greater need to die at home as people have been too afraid to go into hospital and chose to stay at home.

"We have helped those who had life-limiting illnesses or diseases and those where covid was a contributing factor in their death to have the death they wanted surrounded by their loved ones.”

Hospice at Home healthcare assistant Hayley Spencer from Buxton is photographed wearing full PPE during one of her shifts

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the country and said there would be a national lockdown back in March 2020, the support services at Eccles Fold may have stopped but caring for patients never did.

"Our Hospice at Home services have doubled and the staff have never stopped delivering the care to people when they need it the most,” said Shane.

Working in partnership, Blythe House and Helen’s Trust have been responsible for keeping over 190 patients safe and comfortable at home, instead of being admitted to in-patient units, helping to alleviate pressure on NHS services. The service’s clinical outputs have doubled in the teeth of the pandemic – they’ve provided over 17,000 hours of care since March 2020, to patients across 20 local towns and villages including in Buxton, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Disley, Edale, Glossop, Hathersage and New Mills.

A family who have used the Hospice at Home service in the last year, but did not want to be named, praised Blythe House for its continuing support over the last year and said: “I can’t begin to imagine how we’d have coped without Hospice at Home.

Blythe House Hopsicecare CEO Janet Dunphy outside the Hospice at Home sign where demand for the service has doubled this last year

"It was just wonderful to know someone was there. We have always been very healthy people so it hadn’t occurred to us to seek help from Blythe House.

"What I’d say to other people who may be in a similar situation, is don’t hold back from asking for help.

"It’s not just the palliative and end of life care, but genuine advice and support too.”

Shane said this time last year as lockdown approached it was a very different world than it is now.

It is hoped face to face service can resume soon at Blythe House Hospice after a year of virtual sessions

“A year ago people were so frightened we didn’t know what the lockdown would mean or how long it would be as it was something we had never experienced before but we knew we had to find a way to keep going.”

And keep going they did.

The volunteers, support and counselling sessions came to a halt at the Chapel site but have continued through virtual sessions, phone calls and door step visits and since March 2020, the team of 42 Community Volunteers have been available seven-days-a-week to support patients, alongside many other local people who are isolated, elderly or vulnerable. They provided over 3,400 companion phone calls and 1,140 visits to over 200 families, donating over 2,500 hours of their time.

One volunteer, John Baker, from Taddington, says the pandemic has changed things for him and how he helps others. He used to take a man out for a coffee to allow him a breather from caring for his wife but all that has stopped now.

Volunteer John Baker supports people through telephone calls now after a year of lockdowns and social restrictions

He said: “Most of my work is done of the phone now, I ring people up, start a conversation with them and check in on how their family are as well as how they are coping.”

John said he has supported people in different ways from popping over on someone’s wedding anniversary and sharing a piece of cake over the gate to just ringing them up.

The 71-year-old said: “Some of the people we support have had to shut off from the outside world for almost year so a phone call from me is a new voice, someone fresh to talk to and can really break up and brighten their day.”

Someone who benefits from the Community Volunteer Scheme said: “All the volunteers I have spoken to have been great; very helpful and friendly. Things would have been very different without their help in getting prescriptions collected from the pharmacy and delivered to my home.”

When lockdown ends Shane says some of the virtual sessions and telephone support are some of the positives which will be carried forward as restrictions ease.

He said: “We cover such a big geographical area that sometimes it is hard for people to get in to see us in a face to face situation and we also know some people may not feel comfortable but now we are able to say to people we can continue to support you in a way that suits you.” As staff have been vaccinated and having weekly tests, Blythe House is hoping to welcome back people to face to face situations by the end of April though the children’s bereavement and counselling services have remained on a face to face basis.

Shane O'Reilly talking about how the year of lockdowns has impacted on the services at Blythe House

It has been a tough year for Blythe House. Not only has the charity merged with Helen’s Trust to cover a wider area, the pandemic has meant many of their usual fundraising events and opportunities have not been able to take place.

Shane said: “Our sponsored events like the Jingle Bell Jog and the Light up a Life campaign were done virtually or on people’s own time. I took my wife and children out for a jingle jog in the park so we did it on our own and still raised money but it hasn’t been the same.”

A final Blythe House Service user added: “Thank all the amazing people at Blythe House for all your hard work, help and support during the past year which has been a very challenging one for us all.”

Fundraisers such as the glow walk have not happened in the last year for Blythe House