Coronavirus: everything we're doing to support our NHS
From helping free up desperately needed beds to keeping communities connected, this is how we're helping our hospitals through the outbreak
As new life emerges this spring, the UK remains resolutely quiet. With pubs and restaurants closed, and road traffic having plummeted to levels not seen in the UK since 1955, people are staying home wherever possible to protect the NHS and save lives.
For the healthcare system, it’s a different story. As wards become busier than ever, the coronavirus outbreak is putting unprecedented pressure on our NHS.
The British Red Cross has been working with hospitals up and down the country for over 70 years. We have always been there to support the NHS, and recent weeks have been no exception.
As the NHS braces itself for the virus’ peak, we have been supporting healthcare workers wherever possible, while adapting many of our services to ensure the safety of our staff, volunteers, and service users.
Getting people home safely
Our assisted discharge service supports around 100 hospitals across the country. It is designed to help vulnerable or elderly patients who are medically fit to leave hospital, but who may not have friends or family close by to help in the days after their arrival home.
During the outbreak, the service has enabled hospitals to free up desperately needed beds. Our staff and volunteers provide non-medical support and peace of mind to doctors, nurses and relatives that patients will be cared for when they go home.
We are also delivering food and medicine to service users who are self-isolating. Stephen is a frontline support worker in Portsmouth. Last month, he helped 80-year-old Sylvie return home after a month-long stay in hospital.
“She had no idea about the impact of coronavirus, self-isolation or food shortages,” said Stephen. “Older members of the community sometimes rely on what I call a ‘WWII-type diet’ - processed meats, tinned puddings. It’s their favourite tinned goods that were becoming harder to find with everyone stocking up on these non-perishables.”
Ordinarily, Stephen would have done a house welfare check for Sylvie – ensuring there were no trip hazards and checking to see whether she needed any help with housework.
“None of that is possible in the current climate – but I could check that she was OK and deliver her shopping. She was really happy that even this small thing had been done for her.
Befriending is so important for older, vulnerable people and it’s a part of my job that I really love. I like being a friendly face, but for now I’ll have to be a friendly voice.”
Helping people feel secure
But the coronavirus outbreak means that face-to-face visits with vulnerable or elderly people must be avoided.
HE SAID THE RED CROSS WAS LIKE A LIFELINE TO HIM.Tracey, a support worker in Brighton and Hove
“It’s difficult not to be able to see them,” said Tracey. “I was due to visit a gentleman of 86 but I had to ring him instead. I knew he had no family nearby and usually relied on taxis to do his shopping, so I let him know he needed to stay indoors. I took him some tins and ready meals – things that would last a long time.
“It made him feel more secure having supplies that wouldn’t go off, and it stopped him going outside and risking his health. He was very thankful and said the Red Cross was like a lifeline to him.”
Easing the pressure in A&E
We also have teams working in around 25 A&E departments, providing practical and emotional support to patients and families.
Our team at the Royal Gwent Newport Hospital in Newport has been working there since 2018. Sinead, a team leader at the hospital, says that support for staff is currently proving as crucial as support for patients.
“A lot of our work at the moment is for the staff – they are quite stressed and upset at the moment so it’s just about knowing that we’ve got an open door and that they can come in and have a chat and a cry and vent it all out,” she said.
Calling on our network of volunteers
Outside of our work with the NHS, we have also seen a surge in people volunteering with us. Since coronavirus reached the UK, we have had more than 70,000 people share their kindness by becoming community reserve volunteers.
This role involves helping the community to get back on track following a major local emergency, doing whatever is needed most. For the past few weeks, we have had volunteers working at food banks to help meet the increased demand due to the impact of coronavirus. Working with the authorities, we are exploring how we can continue to most effectively get our volunteers helping all over the country.
Quarantine is hard and we're there to help
In February, we supported the families of people who had flown back to the UK from China following the initial outbreak.
At a friends and family support hub at Arrowe Park Hospital in Liverpool, we worked at a drop-in centre where those wanting to be near their quarantined loved ones could keep up to date with developments. British Red Cross research has shown that regular communication and contact with family and friends can play a huge part in reducing stress and anxiety in people involved in crisis situations.
As life stays quiet in the UK and our heroic NHS workers continue to care for the thousands of people affected by the virus, the Red Cross will be here to help.
“It’s difficult for us all to contemplate what’s happening but in my job I’m more aware of what it’s like to be isolated and lonely, so I want to make sure I’m still there for people,” said Tracey. “We’re all in the same boat here, so we all need to support each other however we can.”
UK Coronavirus Response Appeal
The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest health emergency of our time. With your help, we’ll continue to provide vital support to those worst affected by the outbreak, wherever the need is greatest.DONATE