How hospice's virtual day services are helping patients and carers across Bristol

Day Services at Bristol’s hospice have been forced to move online during the pandemic – but are still providing a lifeline to patients. The hospice normally runs a programme of day services out of its day hospice at its base at Brentry. Patients, who sign up for a 12 week course, enjoy activities such as craft sessions, discussion groups, drop ins and a range of treatments.

They are also able to access support and advice from the hospice’s expert staff and build friendships and share experiences with other patients. But due to the pandemic, the Wellbeing and Day Hospice programmes had to shut in March, with services moving to a virtual platform in September. Now patients and carers can sign up for six week programmes and other sessions which are being run through out the week.

Patients and carers at St Peter’s Hospice have been enjoying the new virtual sessions

Patients, who sign up for a six week course, enjoy activities such as, group discussion, relaxation, gentle exercise and reflection.

They are also able to access support and advice from the hospice’s expert staff and build friendships and share experiences with other patients. Day Services Manager Katie Miller said: “We could not replace like with like. “So we had to redesign our services and the programmes within virtual sessions.”

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The sessions are run via zoom.

As well as a programme for patients there is also one for carers. The programmes run for one hour a week. “The virtual sessions allow patients and carers to remain connected with the hospice and each other,” said Katie.

“Many of our patients are isolating at home due to the pandemic and some live alone and often don’t see anyone all week.” The content of the sessions vary, with the overarching aim of improving patients wellbeing and reducing isolation. They cover general discussions on topics, as well as relaxation techniques, light exercises, craft sessions and reflection with music.

There are also plans to launch seated yoga in the coming weeks. Similar sessions are run weekly for carers. “The aim of meeting weekly is that people get to know one another and have that connection,” said Katie.

“We also use the sessions to discuss how people are coping with the lockdown. “It’s also an opportunity for people to discuss the challenges they are facing and share their coping mechanisms with others in the group.” The day services staff also run other virtual sessions including weekly drop ins on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a Monday relaxation session and a weekly quiz on a Wednesday, all of which are open to patients and carers.

The sessions are run by Katie who is a registered nurse and Occupational Therapist Caroline Cresswell. “For many the sessions are a distraction and to have some fun and light relief at a time when life is difficult,” said Katie. “One of our patients said the sessions give her a purpose to get up every day as she knows there are people there waiting for her and she feels connected with the outside world.”

As well as the general sessions, Ralph Di Somma, the hospice’s spiritual lead runs a ‘sanctuary’ group on a Friday where patients and carers can spend time learning relaxation techniques, meditating and reflecting. “The virtual sessions have been working really well,” said Katie. “We try and create what people want and need, we are willing to adapt to what people want.”

How hospice's virtual day services are helping patients and carers across BristolDave Smith and wife Angela have been using St Peter’s Hospice virtual day services programme

Dave and Angela Smith from Stapleton are among those making use of the virtual sessions.

Dave, 56, was introduced to the hospice after he was diagnosed with terminal oesophageal cancer in February 2019. He was referred to the hospice last January and took part in a 12 week day hospice programme at the hospice. “The day hospice sessions were really good and I met a lot of people who were facing a similar situation to me,” he said.

“When I first got diagnosed I felt I was on a conveyor belt within the NHS. “But at the hospice all the staff take a personal interest in you and your wellbeing.” Dave, a former Royal Mail HGV driver, then started taking part in the virtual sessions along with his wife Angela who is his full time carer.

“It was so good to have that contact,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for all of us to share our experiences and share solutions and bounce off one another. “In my job I was always used to having a lot of people around me. “It gives me and Angela that connection with the hospice and makes us feel that we are not alone.”

Angela, 55, has also found the online sessions for carers hugely useful. “When I first started I was a bit nervous,” said Angela. “But very quickly I got to know people and to have the support and friendship of people who are in the same situation as me was amazing.

“They have also meant I have started to spend time to focus on myself.” The hospice has been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic and is currently facing a ?2 million gap in its budget. For the first time in its history it has had to close its Day Services unit and reduce the number of beds in its inpatient unit from 15 to 10.

It has launched a fundraising appeal When It Matters Most, backed by Bristol Live, to try and recover some of its financial losses and secure its future going forward.

Anyone who wants to find out more about the appeal or make a donation should click here.

If you would like more information about hospice day services call the Clinical Advice line on 0117 915 9430.

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