Behind the scenes: ‘We went from 40 helpline calls a day to 400’

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Originally published at bhf.org.uk, written by Maureen Talbot

Our Heart Helpline team, including Head of Clinical Support, Maureen Talbot (second from right, bottom row)

It felt like a very sudden change. One minute we were having our regular week of steady calls and the following week it kicked off and we went from calls in the tens each day to calls in the hundreds.

Once it hit Italy and it was in the news day after day, almost all the calls were about Covid-19.

We cranked up staffing from three to six or seven nurses and put them all on to the helpline so we could cope with the demand.

We were hearing huge amounts of anxiety. People wanting to know if we knew anything they didn’t know.

‘Sometimes we had to say “I don’t know”’

The nurses are very knowledgeable — it’s a requirement for working on the helpline that they have extensive cardiac nurse experience. Ordinarily they know the answers. So that was tough because sometimes the nurses had to say: ‘I don’t know.’

The biggest misunderstanding is about the different at-risk groups. The way the government named them — extremely vulnerable/ very high risk and vulnerable/ high risk — didn’t help and led to confusion.

We have had to do a lot of explaining and saying that according to the government definition, you are not in that extremely vulnerable group. Among our community, you are only in the most vulnerable group if you have had a heart transplant or you are pregnant and have ‘significant’ heart disease.

The most common enquiries now are people who are not in the shielding group but are living with a heart condition. Or they have a heart condition and their employer wants them to return to work. Not just NHS workers, but other key workers such as people who work in supermarkets.

‘Our call volumes are twice as high as before, even on quiet days’

Or they are already at work and they can’t maintain social distancing or don’t have adequate PPE. These are the realities for people.

We are liaising with the BHF policy team so they can explore issues and, if necessary, raise with key people within Government and the health service. And we regularly update the Covid-19 info on our website, based on the questions we are getting on the helpline.

Everyone has had to work extremely hard and without a chance to take a breath at times. Even on the quieter days our call volumes are two and half times what they were before. Previously, we barely got 20 emails a week for the nurses. Now it is in the hundreds!

The volume of work is less of an issue than the emotional drain and complexity of enquiries that we can’t always answer. Covid-19 is a new condition and we are learning more about it all the time.

‘It’s like being back in the NHS’

All the nurses are now receiving supervision sessions with a psychologist. They get that opportunity to talk things through, to offload. And also, for the psychologist to share some tips on how we can look after ourselves while also supporting our colleagues.

A few of the nurses have said it’s like being back in the NHS — you don’t forget how to step up.

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Originally published at https://www.bhf.org.uk.


Behind the scenes: ‘We went from 40 helpline calls a day to 400’ was originally published in British Heart Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.