Palliative care nurse Zoe Berkeley spends her time caring for Bucks patients at the end of their life, making them as comfortable as possible and ensuring they, and their loved ones, have everything they need.

Ms Berkeley, 38, who works at Rennie Grove covering the Beaconsfield and Gerrards Cross areas, spoke to the Bucks Free Press about the additional challenges Covid-19 has thrown up for hospice at home nurses and their patients, all of whom suffer from life-limiting illnesses.

She said: “There’s been so much going on in the community. People we care for don’t want to go into hospital even more than they didn’t before because they are anxious about what will happen to them with everything going on at the moment.

“They want to be cared for at home and we help them to facilitate that. Sometimes patients want to die in a hospice and we can facilitate that too as we have relationships with hospices. We don’t have any inpatient units ourselves, we care for people at home.

“We are getting much busier in the community because people don’t want to go into the hospital and they are making really life-changing decisions about their treatment because they know if they’re going to go in, they’re not going to have visitors.

“Everyone’s on edge at the moment because of all the changes. Anything could change at any time while they’re in hospital.”

All of the charity’s referrals come from the NHS, Ms Berkeley explains, but it gets just 12 per cent of its funding from the health service, which means it has to raise the rest of the 88 per cent itself.

She explained: “We need to raise over £20,000 a day to provide services for local people who need us. It is quite difficult at the moment as there are no events, especially as we’re now in a second lockdown, and we’ve got 28 charity shops which are all closed.

“Technically we’re not a part of the NHS but we’re an add-on to the NHS. GPs are overrun, district nurses are overrun and so we’ve got to be helping them out even more.

“GPs are not able to go out to patients at the moment, but we are so we’re kind of like the middle man.

“It hasn’t really made a difference to the work we do, but it does mean we have to do more, which is fine but it adds that extra pressure that wasn’t always there before [the pandemic].

“We are very lucky that we have around 1,600 volunteers who are amazing – they answer our phones, work in the shops – but a lot of them are older and so have had to shield during the lockdown.”

Speaking about how the nurses have had to adapt to the changes since the start of the pandemic in the UK – and lockdown – Ms Berkeley said having to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) has had a huge impact on how hospice at home nurses are able to do their jobs and has been difficult for their patients too.

She explained: “PPE is the big thing as we have to wear it all the time. It is increasingly difficult to go into someone’s home wearing a mask, gloves and an apron as it’s like an alien to them.

“We don’t wear a uniform so it’s a more personal touch for our patients. PPE changes that and it’s just so difficult to be at someone’s deathbed and them not being able to see you smile at them, or not be able to give the crying relative a hug.

“The main thing is not being able to see facial expressions – in such a compassionate role is really hard.

“I understand why we need to wear PPE, for their safety and ours, but it’s such a massive barrier especially in this line of work. It’s such a sensitive area and you need to be able to show that compassion and a lot of that is in your face.”

Rennie Grove is a charity providing specialist care and support for adults and children with life limiting illness in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.

In 2019-20, its hospice at home nursing teams cared for 2,135 adults, an increase of 29 per cent from the previous year, as well as 69 children, which was up from 17 per cent the year before.