In Conversation with Jenny – Family liaison

Melissa: Hello, my name is Melissa and I am a clinical psychologist working with Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, and I am here today to talk with Jenny, who is a clinical nurse specialist in Multiple Sclerosis.

Welcome Jenny.

Jenny: Heya.

Melissa: So tell me, how was your job impacted by the pandemic?

Jenny: I was redeployed twice. I was redeployed during the first wave for just over three months and then went back to my MS role for, I’m not even sure how long, 6 months? And then in January of this year I was redeployed again for three months, and I’m just about to go back. So over the last year I have been redeployed for 6 months. Which I know a lot of people, it’s that experience of being redeployed for a long time, but I had two sort of experiences of being redeployed. Once right at the beginning of the pandemic when no one had an idea about what was going on, and then once during the second wave when there was a sort of much more controlled effort I guess.

So during the first wave I was literally just put on the ward and just said ‘you are doing family liaison. We don’t really know what that is, we don’t really know what your ward is. Go, here’s a phone, see what needs doing.’ So that was quite hard. It was just, there was no real job plan or description other than they knew that families were not allowed to visit because of the pandemic and there were lots of patients who were very very sick and dying, and families were constantly calling the wards, I mean, understandably very upset. And staff were so busy there weren’t having the time to phone the families back to let them know what was going on, so they needed someone to fill that gap, to find out what was going on with the patients and answer that phone and phone the families back and let them know what was going on.

Melissa: It’s a very emotionally heavy role.

Jenny: Yeah, and especially right at the beginning of the first wave you know, no one knew what was going on with COVID, there were not really established treatment protocols, all the patients were on different treatments and there were a lot of patients dying really quickly. And we weren’t having any visitors so there were families where we were setting up for them to watch their families dying over Zoom videos, and it was very hard to be there for that.

Melissa: Yeah.

Jenny: I guess the other real struggle for everyone is being in the huge amount of PPE that we have all been in, being completely covered from head to toe, where you can’t even recognise each other. You don’t know who is under that. So having patients who are very very unwell and incredibly, you know a lot of them are delirious, so we had people waking up thinking we were spacemen, or thinking we were aliens, and it is, it’s one how to cope with it ourselves but how to explain that to families as well. But then also you have patients who are dying and we are the only people who can be with them because their families aren’t allowed to come in and we are holding their hand, but holding their hand through two pairs of gloves. And it’s just, as a nurse it just doesn’t feel the same as actually, you know we can’t actually touch them. I guess as well, part of being a nurse, there is that, you know there are loads of aspects to being a nurse but part of it is that touchy feely, you know you want to be there with your patient, you want to be able to hold their hand a be able to touch them, and them not being able to see your face and not be able to see you smile at them, or hold their hand properly. I have looked after patients for three months now and they have never seen my face and it just feels like you know they might see me in the street and they wouldn’t recognise me.

Melissa: You know just listening to you speak I’m just thinking about actually about the incredible amount of care you have managed to deliver under these crazy circumstances actually.

Jenny: Yeah. You know it’s such a, I think the Family Liaison is such an important role at the moment because we have such limited visiting. But what it has highlighted to me is that it could be such an important role going forward, even outside of COVID or outside of the pandemic because it really does bridge a gap in terms of communication and enabling people who aren’t able to make those communications themselves. So we have been doing things for, yeah for the really sick patients to end of life, who are less conscious, but also for you know patients with dementia or elderly patients who don’t know how to use their phone or don’t have a phone. At our hospital there was one Family Liaison Officer who worked on the dementia ward pre-pandemic, so I say it was a completely new role, it was in the way I was doing it, but there was someone who worked with dementia patients to try and help with communication pre-pandemic. And I think it is something that, you know, even with visiting is really important in terms of bridging that gap in communication. I hope that it is something that can be taken from the pandemic and taken forward.

Melissa: I wonder like, how did you cope with this, what helped you cope in these moments?

Jenny: Lots of different things. I think one of the biggest things that helped me cope was the team, so the team again because it was a completely newly built ward, was a completely new team. So during the first wave were all completely from different wards but a lot of them knew each other, and the team were absolutely fantastic, really supportive and worked together really well, and were all learning new things. And the management of that team, we were headed up by a really excellent consultant, there was nursing management as well. So having such a supportive team around who just, sort of, accepted everyone was really really helpful. We had, as you know, some psychological supports, we had support groups coming in several times a week, which was good so that the team could just sit down and talk about anything, whether it was work related or not, to have that supportive environment. And then at home I’ve got my mum who is a retired nurse, so she’s always there to talk to about nursing stuff and is happy for me to offload onto, and then just doing non-work related things, so going out for walks and… you know I think it is hard for everyone during the pandemic when everything is shut, but doing other things. So, crafting, and cooking, and walking, so just trying to, you know, get my mind off things, and then, as everyone has been doing, Zoom calls with my family.

Melissa: It’s not quite the same but it’s there.

Jenny: No.

Melissa: I can definitely vouch for your team. When I visited your ward, when everyone was being given those packs that had lipstick in, it was really lovely to see.

Jenny: Yeah, we were all wearing lipstick under our masks and no one could see it!

Melissa: Get some self-care at work, I love that, it’s brilliant.

Jenny: And then I have also stayed really close in contact with my MS team, so they have been really supportive even though I haven’t seen them in three months. My manager and all of my colleagues there have stayed in contact and that’s really good, so I’m looking forward to seeing them next week.

Melissa: Thank you so much for joining me to speak today. I know it was quite brief but just hearing about what you have been up to for the past twelve months has been really interesting and illuminating for me and I’m sure there are lots of people listening who can really relate to it as well.

Jenny: I hope so.

Melissa: So really thank you for your time.

Jenny: You are very welcome.

A conversation between Melissa Hoban, Clinical Psychologist at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust and the NCL Wellbeing Hub, and Jenny Slough, a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Multiple Sclerosis working at University College London Hospitals (UCLH), talking about Jenny’s experience of having been redeployed into a family liaison role– the challenges this brought and the learnings for future work that were possible.

From Jenny: I’m Jenny, a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Multiple Sclerosis. During the COVID pandemic I was redeployed to HDU twice for over six months total to work as a Family Liaison Nurse. This was very different from my normal role and enormously challenging, but I also learnt a lot and met a lot of amazing people while I was there.  Melissa Hoban is a clinical psychologist who, during the pandemic, provides frontline staff support in the form of individual sessions, training and wellbeing groups. She also works for a mental health charity supporting the mental health and wellbeing of 18-25 year olds’ in the transitional age group.  Having worked in a specialist trauma service and substance misuse service, Melissa is interested in a trauma informed approach to mental health care. She also creates accessible mental health resources in the form of illustrations and animated videos that you can find on her Instagram platform @myndoodles

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