My name is Alison and I work as a Health Care Assistant (HCA) for the Hospice at Home (H@H) Team at Hospice of the Valleys, we care for patients overnight in their own homes, within the Blaenau Gwent area.

I wanted to share my experience of working as a HCA for the hospice throughout the Coronavirus pandemic and how my colleagues and I have had to adapt to continue to provide care safely to vulnerable patients of the Hospice at Home Service.

A typical shift starts at 10pm when I arrive at the patient’s home ready to provide care overnight whilst the family catch up on some much needed rest, knowing their loved one is being cared for and all of their needs are being met during the night.

Before Coronavirus, I would arrive at my patient’s home dressed in my uniform, however since the pandemic many things have changed and now I arrive in full personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes an apron, gloves and a surgical face mask to help protect my patient, their family and myself.

Initially I found arriving in full PPE difficult, especially if it was the first time meeting the patient and family. They were unable to see my face and it just seemed so impersonal not being able to see my facial expressions or a friendly smile at such a difficult time in their lives. I found myself using my eyes more when communicating so that they could read me a little better when I was talking, though it did not feel natural it made it a little easier. The face mask also made communicating difficult, it can muffle speech and I felt it was a little harder to breathe easily when talking.

Wearing full PPE for a 9 hour shift could be very uncomfortable especially during the summer months when there were some very hot nights. The fitted masks over a long period, would leave marks on my face and make my nose sore, but they were very much needed to keep everyone safe.

During the night I often provide emotional support, when needed, for both patients and their loved ones. To be honest, I have found it very difficult not being able to give a comforting hug or hold someone’s hand when they were upset and in need of some comfort at a very difficult time in their life. I could only show empathy with words and on times all a person wants and needs is a comforting hug. I am a caring person by nature which is why I work in palliative care and not being able to offer this contact made it extremely hard for me.

I am immensely proud to work as part of the Hospice at Home Team and feel very privileged to be invited into a patient’s home to provide care at such an emotional and difficult time in their lives. I have met some wonderful families during my 5 years working for the hospice and I’m proud to work with such a great multi-disciplinary team providing invaluable clinical care and support to the people of Blaenau Gwent.

Stay safe everyone in these challenging times, we will get there together.

Alison Foote, Health Care Assistant