Coronavirus: End-of-life nurse deployed to Northwick Park Hospital talks of families’ harrowing last moments

Nurse Emma Leahy with a Covid-19 patient. Picture: NHS

Nurse Emma Leahy with a Covid-19 patient. Picture: NHS - Credit: NHS

A specialist organ donation nurse at Northwick Park Hospital has spoken about her experiences dealing with “end of life” requests from dying Covid patients.

Nurse Emma Leahy with a Covid-19 patient. Picture: NHS

Nurse Emma Leahy with a Covid-19 patient. Picture: NHS - Credit: NHS

Emma Leahy, a member of the London Organ Donation Services team, volunteered to work on the front line at the Watford Road hospital during the pandemic.

Specialist nurses in the team are trained in “end of life” conversations with families in their normal line of work. They utilised these skills in the Covid wards, even passing on last messages from patients in intensive care who their next of kin would never see again.

“At first I was providing relief for doctors and training those who don’t normally work in intensive care how to read ventilator charts,” said Emma.

“But as time went on, we realised that patients were missing the family connection from their care. This is such a vital part of any recovery.”

Emma said an important part of her organ donation role is to support families of loved ones in intensive care and she was able to offer support and guidance to colleagues not be so used to having those types of conversations.

She added: “A really rewarding part of the role was offering virtual visits to patients’ families who couldn’t physically be with them because of the social distancing measures. For the patients that were awake, seeing their families on video chat was the boost they needed to kickstart their recovery.

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“Not being able to see loved ones face to face during such a difficult time is heart-breaking for families, but knowing I was there offered some comfort. Even the smallest gestures, such as hand holding or saying a prayer meant everything to them.

“In some cases, people asked for hair locks and handprints of family and friends they knew they wouldn’t see again.”

Betsy Bassis, chief executive at NHS Blood and Transplant, said some staff were isolated from their families for months so they could step into frontline roles and spoke of their “extraordinary commitment” of providing end-of-life Covid-19 care.

She added: “I’ve no doubt that the extra care by our specialist nurses has come as a valued comfort to many patients and their families in these darkest of days.”