The boxes contained basic essentials for anyone receiving palliative care including a soft toothbrush and non-foaming toothpaste, soothing skin creams and leaflets signposting families to bereavement support and help.
Back in March the county’s healthcare professionals predicted end of life care in the community would increase.
Dr Deborah Stevens, a palliative care consultant, was one of the first to recognise that families would, in many cases, become end of life carers during COVID.
Dr Stevens said: “Families who become carers are still a wife, husband, daughter, son or friend to that person and we wanted to empower them to be able to make their loved one as comfortable as possible whilst spending that valuable time with them. In what is always an emotional period in a family’s life we hoped to make it as comfortable and dignified as it possibly could be during the lockdown.”
Faced with this challenge the former medical director of Cornwall Hospice Care postponed her planned retirement in March and instead set about working with Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust district nurses and palliative care teams across Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust looking at ways that families could be made more comfortable while caring for a loved one.
By joining forces, the spark of an idea to provide boxes containing essential equipment and items to make life a little easier for the person in their final days and their carer was born.
Volunteers from emergency disaster relief charity ShelterBox and Volunteer Cornwall boxed up the items at a warehouse loaned by the Helston Forensics Laboratory and then set off delivering the comfort packs to local hospitals and GP practices.
District nurses and GP surgery staff would deliver the comfort packs to the homes and guide the families in how to care for their loved ones using the contents inside.
Shane Revill, who led the team of volunteers and previously worked at ShelterBox, said: “When I heard what Deborah and nurses working in palliative care in our local NHS were hoping to do I reached out to volunteers, people I’d previously worked with and friends and family for help and everyone was eager to join the team.”
“I think the group took a sense of pride in helping these people during this stage of their life, in whatever way we could.”
Shane added: “What I’ve taken away from this is that we do have time in our daily lives to volunteer and help our local health and care system. We go about our days working or looking after the kids and I’ve found from volunteering that even a spare two hours a week can make such a big difference to someone else’s life.”
Paul Abram, from NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group, said the number of boxes sent out to the community in such a short space of time was a testament to the “astonishing determination and effort” of everyone involved.
He worked with the GP surgeries to update the volunteers when more boxes were required, organising the distribution by the volunteers to 16 practices, Truro and West Cornwall Hospital.
“As well as the volunteers involved, the staff at Helston Hospital were especially helpful, taking on additional work to help this cause, at what was an already very stressful time for the team there.”
“Thankfully Cornwall was largely unaffected by the coronavirus so we didn’t reach the number of boxes we originally predicted, however, I’m so glad that we were able to provide those that did need them with that care, even if it was from afar,” he added.
As the comfort boxes were becoming such a success the pharmacy team at Royal Cornwall Hospital were simultaneously creating drug packs which were also distributed to designated surgeries and ensured GPs had to hand – despite the pandemic – the medicine their palliative care patients required and could get it to them quickly.
Dr Stevens said: “The incredible effort by volunteers and people working right across health and social care has been fuelled by what the patient needs – they have been at the forefront of our minds from the very beginning.
If you always look at it from their perspective the right things happen and they will always be cared for even in some of our most challenging times.”