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‘The role of a chaplain is to help people find moments of beauty within the trauma’ – our chaplain Alison reminds us the team is there to support all staff, religious or not

Alison

Our chaplain, Alison Horncastle

Our Chaplaincy team has been a source of support throughout the pandemic, not just for our patients and their relatives, but for our staff too.

From supporting reflection and Let it Out sessions, to providing a listening ear over a coffee, or holding a debrief after a team at King George Hospital saw seven deaths in just one day, there are lots of ways they’re supporting us.

Alison Horncastle, a chaplain at our Trust for the last eight years, is keen to point out they are here for all staff, not just those who are religious.

She said: “Some people think we’re just here to pray with them, or afraid we’re going to try and convert them. Of course the religious side is there if that’s what’s wanted, but I’m not going to hit anyone over the head with my bible!

“We are there to give support and a listening ear. It’s more important now than ever to look after ourselves. We all know you can’t care for others if not. I’d also encourage our staff not to get to crisis point before asking for help, acknowledge when you’re getting stressed, your triggers, and act on it.”

Alison explained that many of our colleagues are struggling with the rate at which some patients can deteriorate, enjoying their breakfast and then dying before lunch, or when patients do not respond well to treatment.

Alongside her chaplain role, Alison is a wellbeing partner for our Theatres team, something she’s been able to draw on from her own experience having worked as an operating department practitioner for 20 years at our Trust. She said: “I know almost everyone so they can more easily open up to me.

“A lot of them are being redeployed to help in our Intensive Care Unit (ITU) and they can be really fearful and worried they don’t know what they’re doing. Staff on the unit are busy so they have to learn quickly. It can also be quite stressful going from a senior role in our theatres, to being a junior team member on our ITU. I help to reassure them there’s a lot they do know.”

As well as supporting staff on a one-to-one and team basis, our Chaplaincy team has also helped on our wards; they’ve enabled patients to speak to their loved ones via donated iPads, picked up messages and packages left at the front desk, and read patients their Christmas cards.

Alison added: “We’ve seen entire families wiped out by this virus. Seeing people lose both parents is very sad and on three occasions recently we’ve seen couples die very close together.

“We’ve had moments ourselves when we need support, I’ve come back to the office and had a sniffle. That’s why it’s important we have a good team and we support each other.”

The Chaplaincy team has learned lessons from the first wave of Covid-19, ensuring our junior doctors are well supported after several struggled in the early days of the pandemic, as well as new starters who may find it traumatic, having not worked in a hospital before.

Alison’s final message on being a chaplain is this: “The role of a chaplain is to help people find moments of beauty within the trauma.”

Our chaplains are available 24 hours a day to offer support. You contact them via email or our switchboard, 01708 435 000, extension 3201 or 6255 at Queen’s Hospital, and 8494 at King George Hospital.

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