CAPTION: Chaplain Sheila Swarbrick has been visiting patients who have not been able to see their families

Devon’s NHS Chaplains are the first line of support for those on the front line

Posted: 29th May, 2020

The Reverend Sheila Swarbrick has been an NHS chaplain at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital for 12 years, but says the last few months have brought a lot of changes in the way she and the rest of the team work.

“No visitors are allowed, we are having to wear facemasks and coloured scrubs along with our clerical shirts.

“We have had to remove a lot of the furniture in the chaplaincy room. We now just have 13 socially-distanced chairs left.”

Many of the regular volunteers are over 70 and have been self-isolating, which has meant bringing in new volunteers from elsewhere.

Face to face contact

Sheila says thankfully the number of Covid-19 cases at the hospital have been low but there has been a lot of anxiety amongst patients, families and staff.

“I have done a number of visits in the past few weeks to Covid-19 wards.

A lot of the furniture has been removed from the chaplaincy at the RD&E to maintain social distancing

“Face to face contact cheers patients up.

“I see my role as giving encouragement to families on the phone, to patients who are not getting visitors and to staff.

“We provide a listening-ear service.”

Sheila says she and the other chaplains have also been delivering messages to patients from their local church communities by handwriting them in special cards.

She said she would like churches to keep using this service by phoning the chaplaincy if they know of people who are in the hospital.

There are a number of hospital chaplains of different Christian denominations and different faiths across Devon.

The co-ordinator for the Christian chaplains is Simon Harrison. He is also the national co-ordinator for the temporary Nightingale Hospitals, set up to deal with large numbers of Covid cases.

“Chaplaincy is a healthcare profession,” he said.

“This is a long journey”

“We are very much part of the NHS and have been part of the planning for the Nightingales, especially when it comes to staff well-being and care.

Simon said the last few months had been challenging, particularly as he himself has been working remotely because he is in the shielded category.

“We have always had chaplaincies in hospitals, now there has been a big increase in bedside support and staff support.

He said this situation will be a “long journey” for hospital chaplains and those they are caring for and that “prayer for nourishment” is needed.

“We are providing end-of-life care and dealing with anxiety and isolation.

“We are the first line of support for the staff in an ever-changing situation.

“We try to be a gentle, listening, still presence.”