This blog comes from Mel Johnston, Head of Inpatient Services at Trinity

"One of the first in a series of tough decisions that we were forced to make back in March was to close the hospice to visitors, most volunteers, and other guests.

Whilst we have now relaxed these restrictions to a degree, we are still worlds away from our “normal”, where we welcome visitors, families, friends, children and pets without restriction, often accommodating them for meals or overnight, sometimes for weeks at a time.

Hospices around the country, hospitals and care homes continue to review their visiting policies and many still have tight restrictions on visiting vulnerable people, which all of Trinity’s patients, by definition, are. Factors such as the layout of buildings, the presence of people with Covid-19 in the wards and in the local area, the level of staffing and even the supply of PPE all influence how we can accommodate visitors safely.

Keeping people safe

Everyone involved with the decision to restrict visiting to the inpatient unit at Trinity back in March will agree that it was one of the most difficult decisions we have ever made. It was not a step any of us wanted to take, but in the face of constant changes in government guidance and rising infections in London, it was the responsible one.

Our job was to find the delicate balance between the safety of everyone in the building, the changing government guidance, and our desire to ensure patients could continue to see their friends and family. But we had to prioritise keeping our patients, staff, volunteers, and visitors safe – for their own health and to do our bit to prevent the further spread of the virus and protect the NHS.

The challenge for patients, their visitors, and my colleagues

As experts in specialist palliative care, we know how deeply important it is to spend time together with loved ones at the end of their life. Time spent together at the end of life can have a lasting impression on the friends and family left behind and can have a huge influence on the state of mind and comfort of a patient.

Even when we relaxed our visiting restrictions slightly in June, we were all too aware that the situation would still be difficult and painful for our patients and their families. We have not been able to allow them as much time as we usually would, and it has been heart-breaking.

I know it has also been very challenging for staff here at Trinity to come to terms with our new visiting policy (which includes guidance on when we can relax rules for those at the end of their lives and in other special circumstances). Members of my team have found it incredibly difficult to manage the changes to visiting amidst the other challenges we are all currently facing. They have done an admirable job however, taking time to explain our new rules to patients and their families before they come into the ward and during their stay.   

Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the restrictions we have been left with no choice but to implement. Our sincerest hope would be to further relax our current visiting policy, however while Covid-19 remains in circulation in the general population we will continue to prioritise the safety of our patients and their loved ones and of the skilled and dedicated staff who care for them."

Read the current guidance for visitors to Royal Trinity Hospice