A SMALL team of unsung heroes have been sitting at the bedsides of hospital patients while their families cannot visit them.

The team of chaplains have been donning aprons, gloves and face shields to listen to patients and read them letters and messages from home.

Lead hospital chaplain Reverend David Southall spoke out to reassure families that their loved ones in hospital - fighting Covid-19 or not - have someone with them.

And the chaplain has also revealed the key work they are doing to support doctors and nurses on long shifts, and others on the frontline, as the pandemic develops.

Rev Southall said: "We are aware we are in times that aren't normal.

"We have put a number of things in place to help mediate that, but it is still nothing like a face-to-face, with your family sitting at the bedside."

Rev Southall also reassured people that the hospital was supporting families to visit loved ones at the end of their life.

He said: "There are still extraordinary measures in place for people to see their loved ones at end of life.

"It works by having them having the personal protective equipment (PPE) on, one family member being allowed in.

"It is about making sure patients still can keep in touch with relatives. It is so important, having the links with the families."

The chaplain said his team wore PPE to go into wards to provide bedside support.

He said: "We can still do that, the only place we don't do that is in critical care - because patients are heavily sedated anyway, and there is a different level of a protective equipment needed there," Rev Southall said.

"On other wards, we will go into the ward that is nursing people with coronavirus. We will put on our protective equipment, apron, gloves, face shield.

"Even now we still have access to those hospital wards. That helps us in terms of supporting staff too - seeing a friendly face.

"Our work is not all religious, people are not necessarily calling us to pray for their loved one - it is about human connection.

"Being with a patient, being on that journey with someone - I hope families are reassured, I think people are genuinely grateful.

"We go in at their request - it is obviously important that we do that, for them and their wider family.

"It is a great job to be in. We are not saving lives, but we are part of the hospital.

"We are there as listeners at this difficult time."

The Rev Southall praised staff, working in tough conditions since the pandemic began.

"We are there for staff - they come in, they will perhaps offload in our office, and then go back to work," Rev Southall said.

"That gives them the energy to carry on their shift.

"We are all playing this little part, from hospital porters to the executive team."

Among the measures that have been introduced during the pandemic is the patient and relative support line and the 'letters from home' service - where relatives of patients can email a message to a loved one, which is then read out at their bedside, giving them a vital boost.

"That is a lovely thing we are doing," the chaplain said.

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"We have also had virtual visiting, with people donating iPads to the wards, so people can see their relatives.

"That is on all wards including the Covid-19 wards.

The chaplain team of four works across all three county hospitals, with Rev Southall based primarily at Worcestershire Royal Hospital.

"We are there everyday, we are on call 24 hours a day, we go in out of hours, we are always available," he added.

The Emotional Support Helpline is staffed by chaplains and skilled volunteers and can be called on 0300 303 3544.