It’s no secret that Covid-19 is having a devastating impact on the lives of patients in care homes and hospices. The threat of the virus has forced providers to keep patients isolated from loved ones for their own safety, but this has led to a decline in mental health, an increase in anxiety and even a risk of earlier mortality.
Now, a new research project funded by the OU Rapid Response to COVID-19 Funding Scheme, is set to begin at Willen Hospice in Milton Keynes, looking at ways to develop technology that could improve communications between patients and their families.
New technology to beat social isolation
Led by Dr Verina Waights, Senior Lecturer in Professional Healthcare Education in the OU’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, this pilot scheme will evaluate how patients and their families communicate with each other, the difficulties they’ve encountered during the pandemic, and how communication technology might improve their experiences in the future. The project has received just over £30,000 to work with the Milton Keynes-based hospice, which has also provided further funding.
Dr Waights said:
“Feedback from some service users and their families highlighted how the COVID-19 measures, including shielding hospice service users due to being ‘at high risk’, have increased their social isolation and feelings of loneliness and helplessness. Our project seeks to provide more opportunities for users to connect so that they can reduce their social isolation, and for use in practitioner assessments and in supporting bereaved families.”
OU pilot will help bring families together
The pilot project, which is expected to report in August, will explore staff, community service users and their families’ experiences of the COVID-19 measures through questionnaires and semi-structured interviews (using a variety of methods to maintain social distancing) and develop enhancements to the service through online co-production workshops with representatives of these groups. The enhancements will be piloted by service users, families, carers and staff.
Mrs Peta Wilkinson, CEO of Willen Hospice commented:
“Willen Hospice is delighted to be part of this important piece of research, which will support our teams, and patients and families to receive the best possible care despite the restrictions being imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Open University is a valued partner and we appreciate their support in exploring how best to support people in these unprecedented times.”
Willen Hospice is the only adult care hospice in Milton Keynes, and provides a wide range of services to assist terminally ill people with a wide range of illnesses. It has 170 staff and over 600 volunteers but needs ongoing support from the community for fundraising and donations.
The Coronavirus Research Fund was set up by in September 2020 by the OU Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research, Enterprise and Scholarship, to provide a rapid-response stream for projects with short turn-around and a longer-term stream for large projects.
Once the findings of the pilot scheme at Willen Hospice are published in the summer, staff at the home aim to future-proof Willen’s services against further disruption from COVID-19. The findings will then be disseminated widely to provide an evidence-base for other hospices to improve their services.
- Read more about OU research in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies
- Find out more about what the OU is doing to support the response to Coronavirus