‘The enduring challenge is knowing when it’s coming’: St Christopher’s Hospice relying on donated PPE from vets, dentists and nail bars

Katherine Johnston (22 April, 2020)

Last government delivery was two weeks ago and they don't know when the next drop off will be

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St Christopher’s Hospice’s chief executive says her staff have enough PPE for now but managing supply is her biggest challenge.

“We had a good drop-off about three weeks ago but haven’t had anything in the last fortnight and don’t know when we’ll get our next delivery,” Heather Richardson told the News.

The Sydenham-based hospice, recently rated ‘outstanding’ by the care regulator, has stocked up with help from the wider community after a call for help on social media saw dentists, vets and even nail bars step in and donate their own stock.

“The enduring problem is knowing when it’s coming,” she explained, saying she personally is spending huge amounts of time sourcing items.

As more hospices, care homes and NHS workers depend on donated items – some of which are not made to specification – it raises concerns they are being forced to use equipment that may not be sterile or have defects.

Acknowledging this is a concern, she explains: “At the moment we are balancing the risks of no PPE versus having some from suppliers we wouldn’t usually use.”

On the question of whether new government guidance on re-using certain items had caused alarm, she explains the challenge for the hospice is listening to what staff need and what makes them feel safer, but she also has to accept that supply is a worry – leading them to balance risks ‘daily’.


The hospice has 32 on-site beds for people needing round-the-clock care and supports a further 1,300 people with at-home palliative care.

The virus poses a further challenge to the hospice as not only are they protecting long-standing patients, they are also  caring for some suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients at the end of life – including those arriving from hospitals.

In their final days and hours they are able to have one loved one by their side.

Although some staff and patients have had confirmed or suspected COVID-19, she says there is no reason to suspect that cross-contamination has happened in the hospice, but like all other hospitals, homes and hospices they are often in the dark about how or when someone contracted the illness and taking up testing – offered in Greenwich for frontline staff – isn’t easy if someone can’t travel or is too unwell.

“It is very stressful for them but they are doing an amazing job,” she says. “We have seen the best of our workforce at this time. They are being creative, and trying their best, and putting in extra hours during a challenging time with a lot of tragedy.”

The hospice, a charity, has had to cancel all fundraising events and close all 26 of its charity shops during the outbreak.



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