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Health visitors in Derry ‘exhausted' because of pandemic workload

Great James Street health centre

Members of the Western Trust board have recognised the commitment of community-based teams throughout the Coronavirus crisis who are ‘exhausted’ having dealt with a ‘huge’ workload.

At a meeting of the Western Trust Board on June 11, Chief Executive Dr Anne Kilgallen provided a snapshot of community services by reading out an email from a community team leader based at Great James Street.

In it the worker said: “All the publicity has been about the efforts within the hospital, and quite rightly too, but the hospital didn’t get the expected the surge from COVID-19.

“However, the volume of work in both our services in the community has been huge and much more intense than usual.

“I know the health visiting team are exhausted, this rate of work can’t be maintained, and we’re not going to get any relief as our services are stepping up now again.”

The worker explained that staff had pulled together as a team and embraced new ways of working, at one stage managing a 50% reduction in staff numbers.

She said: “This crisis has expedited the process of our team getting smart phones and from the feedback it has made a huge difference in being able to interact with families, especially safeguarding families. In such a short space of time.

“Parents are able to send video clips to health visitors, for example to diagnose oral thrush or see the walking gait of a child.

“We set up a parents health line and looking at other ways to improve contact with families, a dedicated Facebook page in conjunction with Trust communication’s team but controlled by the health visitor team.

“Parents have been emailing parents the information they require.

“Our health visiting team has been working extremely hard although home visiting was reduced.  Health visitors were ringing families at home with each call lasting about 30 to 40 minutes longer than a home visit might have taken.”

Health visitors were contacting more families with a total of 2,117 calls for home visits completed in April for the Derry, Limavady and Strabane areas.

Dr Kilgallen continued reading the email: “They start making them before 9am and are working consistently throughout the day, one after another which is much more intense.

“They also have the worry that many of the safeguarding families are not being seen, they are being tele-linked and that’s harder and very tiring.

“We had health visitor redeployed into the hospital therefore leaving vacant caseloads but those on the ground are working to cover those vacant caseloads so there isn’t a backlog.”

The team leader went on to speak about the community midwifery services who experienced a high volume of work with an increase in the number of antenatal bookings.

They anticipate that come November-December onwards there will be a significant workload due to lockdown.

The meeting was told that 1,457 people have received help and support from community based teams, including those individuals who were shielding.

That included delivering food parcels and prescriptions, and regular telephone contact.

Dr Kilgallen said she brought this feedback to board members so that they can all recognise the ‘very dedicated work’ of this team.

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