Earl, a patient under the care of St Catherine's Hospice, has been speaking to volunteer, Graham, once a week as part of St Catherine's new Telephone Buddy scheme. The scheme was recently set up to make sure patients, who've temporarily had to stop attending the hospice's Living Well Centre, remain connected to St Catherine's by having a regular, social call with a volunteer.
Here Earl and Graham share their experiences of the scheme:
Earl said, "Due to my health issues, I was attending St Catherine's Living Well Centre every Wednesday before lockdown happened. I'd got to know Graham whilst I'd been going to Living Well, so being paired up with him as part of the hospice's new Telephone Buddy scheme was a continuation of that. When one of the nurses told me about the scheme I asked if I could speak with Graham because I already knew him. Everything is driven by my needs as the patient."
Graham adds, "I've been volunteering at the hospice for seven and a half years and was really pleased to be asked to help whilst I'm not able to be at the hospice volunteering. It means a lot that I can still do something to support patients and St Catherine's and not just sit around for months. Earl and I had already met at the Living Well Centre. We get on very well and already have a rapport with one another. Earl really took to my meditation sessions and my professional career was as a policeman. Earl was a policeman in New Zealand for a while, so we have similar interests."
The pair have been catching up together on the phone for over a month now. Earl says, "We usually have our call at 10.30am for about an hour on Wednesdays. We've got lots of things in common and we talk about everything, no subject is barred. Sometimes, we agree to disagree on things but it's not a problem as we can each present our views."
Graham agrees, "Conversation flows naturally and it's like having a chat with a friend. Earl's an easy-going guy and we always find lots to talk about. It's like being together at the hospice for an hour, it's just the service has been adapted. Earl's illness is a very small part of it. I'll check in on his general wellbeing but mostly we discuss our past experiences, the world in general, anything. We both look forward to our call."
Earl adds, "A lot of laughing goes on! The call is something to look forward to each week and it's all positive as far as I'm concerned."
Graham says the guidance and support for volunteers taking part in the scheme has been fantastic too. He said, "I'm chuffed to be able to do this. It's an enlightened scheme. St Catherine's is all about giving patients as normal a life as possible and the hospice is still doing that for them now. It's just it has to be over the phone rather than face-to-face at the moment."
The Telephone Buddy scheme was set up to help people under the care of St Catherine's feel less isolated during the pandemic and this is something that Graham thinks it does really well. "It gives people a friendly voice to chat to and lets them know, that even if they can't attend the hospice in person, St Catherine's is still there for them," he said. "They know they're not forgotten, it's just the world has changed. For some patients, it's not so much about who is calling them, it's more about keeping in touch with the hospice in a different way to talking to a nurse. Many patients love coming into the Living Well Centre and for some of them it's the highlight of their week. It must be difficult not being able to do that at the moment."
Earl agrees the buddy scheme is important for people like him. He said, "It's made a real difference. I'm classified as extremely vulnerable so I'm not able to go out and I only get the odd conversation with people. Speaking to Graham each week has been a lifeline really. I live with my wife, but for other people who can't physically access the hospice or who live alone, this scheme must be a godsend."
Graham said, "It's really nice to know the scheme is making a difference. It's comforting for people to know somebody is there, and it spreads the load for staff too.
I've got the time to do this and I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to. It's difficult times for all of us but it means a lot to still offer my services to wonderful people like Earl and to St Catherine's. Some parts of our normal world might be shut down but the good work of the hospice isn't. It's a brave new world, but one good thing that's come out of all of this is that people are being more friendly and talking to one another more. I hope that continues as life gets back to normal.
People need and appreciate social contact more than ever now, especially patients who are shielding or can't get out. They need St Catherine's care now more than ever. If I can bring happiness to someone else, whilst having a pleasant conversation on the phone, it's great."
Earl hopes the scheme will continue even when he's able to return to St Catherine's Living Well Centre. He said, "My calls with Graham work really well. We both want it to continue even when I'm able to visit the Living Well Centre again. It's a great way to reach more people who need the hospice."
To help St Catherine's support more people in your community through this crisis and beyond, please visit: www.stch.org.uk/donate