Background During the first three months of the COVID-19 crisis in Highlands, the local palliative care helpline was put on pause to allow out-of-hours practitioners to cope with increasing demand on acute services. An enhanced helpline was introduced in August 2020.
Aim To provide improved support and advice to members of the community with palliative care needs, at home or in residential care, using existing resources more effectively.
Method A partnership was established with NHS Highland and Highland Hospice to staff an out-of-hours enhanced Palliative Care Helpline (PCH) seven nights/week. Shielding nursing staff working with the NHS who had previous knowledge and experience in palliative care were invited to work remotely alongside nursing staff in the Highland Hospice. Staff involved were consulted and supported with three online induction sessions.
Results During the six-month pilot, 470 calls were made to the Palliative Care Helpline of which 55% were put through to the PCH nurse. The data from the pilot period was compared to pre-pilot data. Calls were more likely to be dealt with by giving advice (to patients, families and care staff) resulting in reduced home visits and fewer hospital admissions. Qualitative feedback from out-of-hours practitioners was positive. The assessment and triaging of the patients by the PCH nurses was felt to be ‘often better’, and ‘Far more timely for patients… Far fewer OOHs home visits/contacts required’.
Conclusion A palliative care helpline staffed by nurses with palliative care experience can provide additional support to palliative patients in the community resulting in fewer house visits and hospital admissions.
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