Dr Sheila’s plan ensures maximum care from Prospect Hospice team

June 2020

Care, News

Staff from Prospect Hospice have been more active in the community than ever before in a large scale operation to support the many local patients and families already living life with the effects of a critical illness during lockdown. The decision to focus the hospice’s activity towards delivering its services on people living at home and in care homes during the current crisis has been led by Dr Sheila Popert, the charity’s medical director who was appointed to her role earlier this year.

There are very few doctors working in the field of palliative care with the lengthy career history of Dr Popert – Sheila, as she is known to the patients, families and colleagues who she works with. Her long experience and renown within her field of medicine have been a huge asset to Prospect Hospice and have been a key factor in their response to the current crisis.

As the spread of the pandemic was becoming clearer in early March, Sheila drew from her own knowledge of the spread of viruses and the experiences of colleagues in Italy and other countries where the Covid-19 virus already had a foothold. She then assessed how best the team at Prospect Hospice could meet the certain oncoming challenges that the charity would face when the first cases of Covid-19 would arrive in the UK.

“Medics I knew in Italy were in touch, and they were telling me very clearly that it was vital that the community wasn’t left behind and it was clear that we would be able to make the biggest difference by deploying more of our staff, from across the wide range of our services, into the community,” she says. “We have done this to great effect. We are reaching more patients in their homes now than ever before, bringing them care that ranges from checking that their symptoms are being managed, to dressing wounds, to changing catheters and fitting syringe drivers.

“This is vital work in many ways,” Sheila continues. “On a simple level, it ensures the continuity of our care through the crisis, which means peace of mind and confidence that we are there for patients and their families when they need us. But it has also meant that we have been able to contribute to freeing up capacity within the NHS by ensuring that as many of our patients as possible have not required hospital admission during the crisis. We have worked closely in partnership with other community care providers and we are providing far more ‘hands on’ care in the local community in addition to some of the more advice-based service that we have traditionally offered.”

Sheila is also hugely proud that teams of nurses and other clinicians from Prospect Hospice have responded with such positivity to the new circumstances that the pandemic has brought. “I think they have been amazing,” she says. “Many of the staff here have just accepted that their roles have had to change to meet the crisis in the most effective way. That’s a huge credit to them and I know that our patients and families have greatly appreciated the support that we have given them.”

The success of this new model of care might influence how the hospice most effectively delivers services beyond the pandemic, Sheila believes: “We don’t know how long this will last, of course, but I think it’s likely that there will be some degree of social distancing for some time yet,” she says. “We will need to balance the delivery of our services between what we can do for patients in their own homes and care homes, and what we deliver at the hospice in Wroughton – but we were already doing this, through our community nurse specialist team, our Prospect@Home team and others.  It means that we can get the care to patients when they need it.”

Sheila acknowledges that she was surprised to find herself now in the role of medical director at Prospect Hospice. “I was supposed to have retired, but I love working here,” she says. “I knew that there was a vacancy for a medical director here but I came to work here last year originally to help out as a locum consultant on a part time basis. I’ve previously been the medical director at several hospices over thirty years, and in my view the care provided at Prospect Hospice is to the same high standard as I have seen in any that I’ve ever worked at.

“The executive team here really impress me,” she adds. ”They are very positive, committed to how Prospect Hospice can work in the best interests of the community, prepared to change their minds when that’s needed and undoubtedly committed to supporting the staff at this difficult time. The staff are unselfish in their commitment to providing the best possible care for patients and families. These were huge factors in my decision to apply for the role. This is a fantastic team and I am delighted to be part of it, even in these most challenging circumstances.”

One aspect of end-of-life care that is important is, for now, not possible though. “Warmth and empathy are key to the work that we do,” says Sheila. “It is harder to express that right now. There’s often hand-holding and hugs in our care in normal times, but at a time when personal protective equipment has to be used, that’s not possible, and I think for a caring team like ours, it’s difficult. It makes expressing that care so much harder.

“For now, though,” she adds, “It’s virtual hugs only.”

Prospect Hospice estimates that it will lose £2million in vital income over the coming months. Due to Covid-19, fundraising events have been cancel, their shops closed and their income stopped overnight. Their care services though continue to operate and the scope of these is far wider than before, now treating many more patients in their own homes. To support the hospice at this time and donate to their Covid-19 appeal, click here.


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