Rachel Matthews, Hospital Manager, discusses the balance of keeping the unit Covid secure while also maintaining family relationships.
The onset of the Covid pandemic raised some very difficult questions for inpatient mental health services. Many units took the decision to close to all visitors and to suspend all home leave for several months, meaning children and teenagers could only have contact with their parents via video calls.
“We felt this wasn’t an option,” says Rachel. “For a child who is already feeling anxious about the pandemic to have face-to-face family cut off seemed like a very harsh step, so we had work hard to mitigate risk in other ways.”
Family visits were restricted to weekends, with parents being the only members allowed to attend. Home leave – a key part of progression through the treatment programme – continued, providing it was clinically appropriate and Covid guidelines were strictly adhered to. Families were health screened before young people went on leave and if any symptoms developed during leave, the young person stayed at home while further medical advice was sought. No-one tested positive for Covid.
“We communicated frequently with parents, explaining what we were doing and underlining it was essential that they remained in isolation during home visits and followed all lockdown rules precisely,” says Rachel. “We had really good engagement and support from families, which made it possible to continue with home leave.”
Before Covid tests became more widely available, temperature checks were used to screen young people returning from home leave.
There was also the challenge of having a number of staff who needed to shield at home and others who were self-isolating if they experienced Covid symptoms. Some psychology-led groups were postponed, although we ensured overall disruption to the programme was minimised.
The psychology team, occupational therapy team and family therapists joined the ward rota to support the nursing team and dietetic team joined the chefs in the kitchen and dining room.
“It was really impressive the way that everybody pulled together,” says Rachel. “We ran additional mindfulness sessions for staff and these were really appreciated.
“Many of our young people found it very difficult. They worried about developing the virus themselves, or family members being affected and they were also worried about the possibility of the unit closing, with uncertainty about what that would mean for their treatment and support. It was a very challenging time.
“We had to contingency plan for what we would do if there was transmission and we had to fully lock down or close,” says Rachel. “We continually assessed which patients would be sufficiently stable to go home and who would need to remain within inpatient care.”
Newbridge has remained Covid-free. “I am extremely grateful to all our staff, who have taken on different roles as needed and have taken such great care over protecting our patients and the unit as a whole. I would also like to thank our patients and families, who really worked with us, recognising the need to mitigate the risks of visiting and home leave in order to safely maintain contact.”
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