Chaplaincy team members at Oxford University Hospitals are providing new methods of support for patients and staff when they need it most during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chaplains are integral members of the healthcare team, employed to care for the pastoral and spiritual and religious needs of the whole hospital community – regardless of their beliefs.

The team includes members from the major Christian and Muslim faiths but they serve people of all faiths and none.

They are keen to get the message across that they are there for everyone.

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The Rev Sarah Sewell, Lead Chaplain, said: “All of us feel sorry that we, for a short time, couldn’t be at the bedside as we normally are, especially in end of life situations.

Oxford Mail:

Chaplain Fiona Hall

“We all became healthcare Chaplains in order to be with people when they are in greatest need and I am relieved that some of us are now able to be there in person.

“The most difficult decision I have had to make as a hospital Chaplain was to stop Chaplains visiting patients on the wards, because of the risk that we might spread the virus ourselves.

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“The work that we did by telephone at least gave us some feeling of being there, to support people when they are scared and isolated.”

Oxford Mail:

Chaplain Rachel Hughes

In pre-Covid times a significant part of their work was contact with patients on the wards, and also support for staff through either brief chats or more in-depth conversations about their lives, and about working in a very emotionally charged environment.

They also help to teach hospital staff about the spiritual and religious aspects of care at the end of life.

In some cases a Chaplain might attend a multidisciplinary team meeting, where this is felt to be appropriate.

Referrals can come from patients themselves, their family members or carers, or ward staff and faith group leaders.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, things have changed a lot for the Chaplains, with some members of the team unable to be present in hospitals due to underlying health conditions.

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To address this, a dedicated telephone line for patients, carers, relatives and staff was set up, although some visits are now able to take place again.

Oxford Mail:

Hospital Chaplains Rachel Hughes, left and Fiona Hall

During the peak of the pandemic, candles were lit and prayers and words of remembrance were said in at least one of the hospital chapels or prayer spaces for those who have died at the trust, their loved ones, and for the staff who cared for them.

Chaplains have always been on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but now this support is sometimes provided over the telephone or remotely.

Members of the team who are able to visit patients are doing this during the daytime on weekdays.

If the on-call chaplain is contacted and able to attend hospital to respond then they will, otherwise patients and families will be responded to by phone or video.

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The team has also sent messages to ward staff, offering help and support during these challenging times.