How BHRUT’s bereavement team helped families who lost loved ones in pandemic

BHRUT's bereavement officer Julie Atkins. Picture: BHRUT

BHRUT's bereavement officer Julie Atkins. Picture: BHRUT - Credit: BHRUT

Staff in the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) bereavement team have helped make sure families who lost loved ones in hospital during the pandemic were given the advice and help they needed.

Julie Atkins is one of the carers who give support and practical advice to relatives when a person dies in hospital, and her team have risen to the challenge of helping families while dealing with double the number of daily deaths as the Covid-19 crisis peaked.

A bereavement officer for more than 12 years, Julie Atkins was used to meeting families when they came into hospital.

“I love dealing with them and showing empathy and compassion,” she said. But as restrictions came into force, the team did their best to give support by phone instead. Before the pandemic, she said the team “would ask for cause of death when preparing a death certificate” but as the number of deaths increased, that changed.

Julie said: “This became simply asking, ‘Is it Covid?’, instead. It felt to me that in 90 per cent of cases, it was.

“Things were so busy at Queen’s Hospital during the peak that these calls were redirected to my colleagues based at King George Hospital. I know it was very emotional for them as they were speaking to families who often hadn’t been able to say goodbye to their loved one.”

The mother-of-three was on hand to train staff from other teams to help the bereavement service deal with the increased work, putting into place a seven day service during the height of the pandemic.

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This allowed them to cover bank holidays such as Easter Monday - one of the busiest days Julie said she experienced. She explained that she missed seeing families but looked for the positives in the difficult situation.

“The thing I most enjoyed about working through the pandemic was meeting so many people I wouldn’t otherwise have,” Julie said. “We were also well supported and my manager would pop in regularly to make sure I was OK.”

The team made sure everyone who needs support still receives the same level of care.

Julie added: “We still have contact with the families over the phone, so that’s my opportunity to provide that same service.”