​Community nurses at Dorothy House Hospice are being helped to cope with an increase in referrals during the pandemic with a coronavirus fund grant. The hospice has been awarded £10,000 for its community nurse service from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund. Earlier this year the hospice received £7,000 from the fund for its hospice at home service.

The hospice’s 24 nurses work with families all over the county to help patients with illnesses that are palliative – an incurable, progressive condition that incudes cancer, heart and lung disease and motor neurone disease – cope in their own homes.

“They provide help to the more complex and advanced patients who are really suffering, whether that be the physical impact of their illness or their mental or emotional wellbeing,” said fundraiser Anna Robertson.

“The nurses can help in practical way with co-ordinating the massive amount of care they need. Our nurses have such experience of palliative care they can come in and really get to know the families and because they understand what they are going through, they will be a liaison between them, their GP and any other health professionals.”

She explained the grant will help meet the challenge of an increase in cases since April, which she believes may have been caused by people coming to Dorothy House for help earlier than they might have done because of the suspension of other support services. “We have seen 485 new patients supported by our nursing team between April and July, that’s a 20 per cent increase over 2019,” she said.

“It is to do with the reduction in wider community services and patients are generally finding the lockdown harder and harder. It is all very well the government saying that shielding has ended but patients are very, very anxious. People are not going out and the emotional impact on them is making it very difficult.

“They are not able to go and see their GPs and they are reaching out for that extra level of support they didn’t think they needed before.”

She said family support networks have also been hampered because of coronavirus. “Where someone’s daughter may have been able to come and help out but if she has children in school she can’t come and help because of the added risk and don’t want to pass anything on,” she said.

The hospice is expecting its referrals to increase further as the impact of delays in cancer diagnosis is felt after hospitals reduced their services during the lockdown.

“There is no doubt there is going to be an increase in palliative conditions that wouldn’t have been palliative but now are,” said Anna Robertson. “People are being diagnosed later so there is going to be an increase in the need for hospice care and that absolutely translates to our nurse team who are such a lynchpin in what we do.”

At the start of lockdown the hospice was forced to stop its community nurses having face to face contact with vulnerable patients. “Once all the PPE was in place they started again,” said Anna Robertson. “All of our nurses are adequately equipped and they are back in and out of peoples’ homes again and they are one of the only services doing that. GPs are not making home visits, so our nurses are working very closely with them to be their ‘eyes’ in patients’ homes.”

She said the grants have helped the hospice maintain its services in a year when its fundraising has been severely limited, with many events being cancelled.

She added: “We are so grateful we are able to continue services such as the community nurses because they are the first people families call when they are not sure about things or need help, they are wonderful people.”

To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.