GIVEN the choice, most of us would rather die in the comfort of our own homes than inside a hospital.

Data from St Helena Hospice shows 96 per cent of people would choose to die at home rather than in an unfamiliar hospital bed.

When coronavirus hit the UK earlier this year, both families and clinicians alike were understandably keen to keep people out of hospital wherever possible.

So over lockdown, St Helena’s virtual ward has become even more important.

Thanks to funding secured from the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, the hospice was able to expand the ward provision from four to 16 beds.

And with the help of Bluebird Agency Care the expanded service was up and running within a matter of weeks.

One of the patients to receive care during their precious final moments was Pauline Hessel.

With the help of two professional carers, friends Tracy and David Pratt and Cathy and David Wooding had been helping Pauline at home.

Sadly the day came when Team Pauline as they called themselves began to feel out of their depth and so they contacted St Helena’s SinglePoint team.

Within an hour of making contact, Pauline received a place on the virtual ward scheme.

Tracy said: “They took control but in a very gentle way, they didn’t take charge, but they made us all feel safe.

“It meant we could go back to being her friends rather than her carers.”

Pauline being able to remain at her Colchester home made such a difference, and her friends were even able to gather for a wine and canapes party just days before she died.

Tracy said: “At 3pm the wine was opened, canapes consumed, and Dean Martin and Matt Munroe sung out of the speakers.

“It was so special to be able to share this experience with Pauline and something we would not have been able to do had she not been at home.”

Staff remained by Pauline’s side right until the very end.

Tracy said: “After she had died, they made us a cup of tea and then organised for the death certificate to be done and contacted the funeral directors.

“I can’t praise the virtual ward team enough.

“Pauline was a very elegant lady and her death was befitting, it was the best it could have been.”

Other families, like the loved ones of Shirley Francis, have also been lucky enough to receive care from the virtual ward team.

Shirley had been ill for seven years and was receiving dialysis treatment, which was not helping relieve her pain.


  • Shirley Francis 

Her family knew it was time to stop her treatment and were given four choices - hospice, hospital, nursing home or in the comfort of her own home.

Husband Harry said home was the only choice.

He said: “There was no way that we weren’t going to be able to visit due to Covid restrictions, so home was the only option we wanted.

“All the family were able to visit, her sister, children, and grandchildren as well as friends.

“We were able to call the virtual ward team whenever we needed them, and two wonderful nurses would come to see Shirley every morning and evening.

“It was an absolutely amazing service and made a fantastic difference.”

Deb Vincent is a registered nurse who has been working with the virtual ward since it was set up in 2018 but earlier this year she experienced things from the other side when her father was dying.

Deb said: “People always tell me what a special service we offer with the Virtual Ward, and my family and I were privileged to experience it for ourselves.

“I’ll never forget the nurses singing with dad, it was Foster and Allen’s ‘my ding-a-ling. They were happy and he was happy”.

Since the start of April the virtual ward has cared for 140 patients and their families. The hospice is working to secure funding to increase the number of beds going forward.