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Goodbye 2021, hello 2022: Simon Bernstein, CEO of Longfield Hospice

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Simon Bernstein, Chief Executive Officer of Longfield Hospice, reveals his memorable moments from 2021 and hopes for 2022.

What was most memorable about 2021?

Longfield Community Hospice is a registered charity for adults in Gloucestershire with a terminal illness. We provide free care and support for patients and their loved ones, helping families make the most of every day together.

We don’t have an in-patient unit with beds at the hospice in Minchinhampton. In fact, in over 30 years, no-one has ever died there. People are often surprised when they come for the first time and patients particularly can be very scared. Last year, one told me they had sat in their car for ages before plucking up the courage to come in. Once they did, they were surprised by the fun they had and friends they made. But it’s been very challenging with all the pandemic lockdowns and the understandable reluctance of our vulnerable patients to attend in person despite us taking the same precautions as other healthcare facilities.

During the lockdowns, we offered telephone and online support to patients and families who would normally come to the hospice. We took the opportunity to completely refurbish the wellbeing areas of the hospice, redecorating our counselling suites and the many other relaxation and creative spaces around the building. We benefitted from some beautiful, framed photos of Gloucestershire kindly donated by Stroud Camera Club. We also secured grant funding to install new flooring and sinks, and fully wipeable soft furnishings, throughout the public areas of our Wellbeing Centre to comply with the very latest infection prevention and control guidelines.

After the last lockdown ended in May, we invited people back into the hospice for wellbeing sessions, complementary therapies and counselling. From June, we saw over 1,000 appointments and attendances at our Wellbeing Centre. The groups on offer included Therapeutic Art, a Relaxation programme, Living Well with Fatigue and Breathlessness, Tai Chi, Writing through Grief, and Fork and Talk (a series of therapeutic gardening sessions). We also reintroduced Patient and Carer Support Groups, where people could join their peers to experience these lovely activities as well as a delicious lunch created by our skilled chef. One of the things that stays with me from 2021 is the sound of laughter carrying from some of the spaces as they were gradually used again when we reopened the hospice to patients and carers.

Our Hospice at Home team provide care for people in their own homes, where most people want to die, if possible, because they can be in familiar surroundings with their loved ones present. During 2021, the team made around 6,500 visits to people in the last weeks and days of their lives. The registered nurses and healthcare assistants in the team do such an incredible job caring for families at what can be one of the most frightening and emotional times people will ever experience. The resilience of our team never ceases to amaze me and doubly so given what they’ve had to contend with over the last 20 months.

Extract from Carol, a bereaved family member’s letter thanking Longfield’s Hospice at Home team for their support.

“Your team gave us people who are gentle and kind; who are experts in end-of-life care, away from the medical model; who are allowed the time to move more slowly and to ask questions and have conversations; who looked after the needs of my mum’s fading body so beautifully, as well as the concerns, needs and worries of those of us caring for her.”

Of course, none of our care services would be possible without the income generated by our fundraising and retail teams. As a charity we depend on them for over 85% of our £4 million per annum income. While it’s hard to single out one thing from the many creative efforts to raise money in 2021, if pushed I’d have to say the transformation in our eBay shop was the most memorable. From selling just one item two years ago (a women’s bra!), we expect to generate £120k this financial year.

What are your hopes and plans for 2022?

During 2021, we developed a new strategic plan following extensive engagement with our many different stakeholders about what they wanted to see from Longfield Community Hospice. One of my biggest hopes arising from that work is that more people become aware of what we do and make use of our services when they need them. That includes healthcare professionals referring patients to us, especially for their end-of-life patients.

Longfield is trying to recruit additional staff to our Hospice at Home team to ensure more families can benefit from this wonderful service. We know we can’t meet the demand that exists for quality end of life care in the community. We’re aware of the immense and increasing pressures on the NHS and want to do our bit to relieve this and free up hospital beds, as well as fulfilling more people’s wish to die in their own homes where they can. Our healthcare assistants often tell me how rewarding they find their roles, so I hope people will feel encouraged to apply here

We plan to develop a wider range of wellbeing services at the hospice that recognise the NHS’s clinical expertise and fill some of the gaps in provision. We have superb facilities that could be used by many more people, and not just people with cancer diagnoses but those with a whole range of life-limiting illnesses – neurological, respiratory, organ failure – including people living independently with dementia. The Wellbeing Centre and our new, more flexible programme of activities will offer a personalised, holistic approach to caring for patients all under one roof thanks to our skilled health care professionals and trained therapists. Our aim is to enable people diagnosed with life-limiting illnesses to feel good and function well as soon after their initial diagnosis as possible.

We also want to provide greater support to families and carers at the hospice, so we are investing in a new Counselling and Carer Support Service. There is a real need to improve their wellbeing too from the moment their loved one receives a diagnosis. There are huge benefits from doing this, not just to them but to the patients they’re caring for, and to the NHS if they stay well. Carers of patients with long-term conditions take a phenomenal load on themselves and often don’t have enough support. It’s a huge strain, physically and emotionally, caring for someone who’s dying. Following a diagnosis, a carer may not even know their loved one is dying or what to expect. They may be confused by all the advice on offer, have no-one helpful to talk to and little opportunity for respite.

Anyone registered with a Gloucestershire GP and living with a life-limiting illness, or bereaved of a loved one, can refer themselves to our Wellbeing Centre (details below).

I want Longfield Community Hospice to be a happy place where life is for living and our indoor spaces and beautiful, tranquil garden are used not just by our patients, their carers and families, but by other healthcare professionals and the wider community too. Longfield is your community asset.

www.longfield.org.uk/hospice-services

www.longfield.org.uk/contact-us

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