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This is…Emma – Celebrating Children’s Hospice Week

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Views of Acorns Director of Care, Emma Aspinall, on responding to the Covid-19 pandemic

I have the privilege of being the Director of Care for Acorns Children’s Hospices. I wanted to take this opportunity during Children’s Hospice week to highlight the incredible work of the care teams across Acorns, which reflects and mirrors the work of care teams across children’s hospices around the UK.

Every year we take a week to acknowledge the kind, compassionate work our teams do, and recognise the difference it makes to the children and the families we are here to support and make their journey that little bit more bearable.

A roller coaster year
This has been a roller coaster year for Acorns, but throughout the challenges the children and their families have been our central focus. In March we, like the rest of the world were tested with the onslaught of Covid 19 and the huge preparations to change and adapt our services to support not only our children and families but also the wider NHS.

We offered our Birmingham hospices to the NHS for additional bed capacity as the pandemic loomed. The care team from the Birmingham hospice rose to the rallying call for all health and social care workers across the nation to be flexible and relocated to the Acorns Walsall and Worcester Hospices.

Families were asked to shield, stay at home and protect themselves and their vulnerable children from the deadly virus. Parents were having to not only care for their child without their usual support networks and services but also home school their other children, trying and organise food delivery’s and medication supplies whilst also managing in many cases their own anxiety, stress and feelings of isolation.

Supporting families in lockdown
Acorns Care Teams have from the beginning of lock down have been offering considerable support to families, whilst Acorns Family Team Workers themselves had to work from home they have contacted and maintained regular contact with more than 600 current families and more than 150 bereaved families by phone, virtual support and where essential we have also undertaken home visits (mainly for our bereaved families).

The Volunteer Managers became logistic experts in coordinating food donations from the wonderful public and supporting organisations, mobilising volunteers and staff to ensure we could deliver food parcels to those families most in need. In one week alone we delivered to over 120 families each family will receive an average of four shopping bags per delivery; over the 10-week period this has been thousands of bags of supplies delivered.

We have also delivered activity packs for siblings, provided access to virtual groups for siblings and one to one virtual support for siblings. Whilst we have not been able to use the hospice for Stay and Play, the nurses and physios who lead these groups thought of other creative ways of providing this support; using the wonders of Zoom, they have provided these Stay and Play groups virtually, bringing together groups of children, parents and siblings into music based sessions. Remaining on the virtual theme have provided links to Acorns You Tube site for families so they can access our nurses and activity workers reading stories and or demonstrating activities they can do at home.

Taking the pressure off the NHS
Our Walsall and Worcester hospice has provided care for children who needed to be discharged from hospital and were unable to be at home, our nurses worked alongside NHS colleagues on the wards with the children prior to their discharge to Acorns, this helped   the children could get to know the nurses and the nurses to know  all they needed to ensure we were able to meet their complex care needs.

Acorns Nurses have, and continue to work alongside our Children Community Nurses working a number of days a week supporting the caseloads of community colleagues, in addition one nurse has been based at the Birmingham Woman’s Hospital working in their specialist palliative care team.

A haven for families
The nurses and care teams have donned the PPE and ensured our hospices have continued to be a haven for those children who have needed End of Life Support. We have been able to support the whole family to stay whilst their child received the very best of care at the very worst time.

From June are hospice teams are also providing emergency stays for those families in crisis and who are physically and emotionally exhausted.

Now the Acorns Birmingham hospice is not needed by the NHS we are temporarily using the hospice to provide bookable Therapeutic based services for children, the specialist physiotherapists are providing hydrotherapy and physiotherapy, we are also coordinating music therapy.

I make no apologies for the long list of achievements from the teams. They have managed through their own personal anxieties and at times personal losses due to the pandemic.  I want to celebrate their work and their courage and their heart and to say a huge THANK YOU, you make Acorns a very special place to work.

Emma Aspinall, Acorns Director of Care Services

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