In the first month of 2021, East Surrey Hospital received over 1,000 heartfelt messages and ‘virtual hugs’ from loved ones to patients receiving care in hospital. Friends and relatives have been able to keep in touch via a dedicated email service, developed during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (SASH) who run East Surrey Hospital have worked hard to enable visiting in person whenever possible over the last year. Like every hospital, there have been periods when this has been restricted to support infection control, so the teams have been finding lots of solutions to help people keep in touch and the patient messaging service is just one of them.

Patients on 28 different wards across the hospital have messages delivered daily and some are even read out by staff to patients being cared for in ICU, during what is often a very emotional and unsettling time for families. Letters of encouragement, spiritual prayers and support for the doctors and nurses caring for them too have been sent in over the last month. These are amongst stories and reflections of holidays and family events, as well as frequent lockdown updates – including; the latest football scores, trips to the local supermarket, tales about the weather and home-schooling.

Many of the messages have been sent in from people throughout Surrey and Sussex, but the hospital has also received correspondence from all over the world including Australia, France, the Philippines, Czech Republic, Penang in Malaysia and Canada. Letters are also written and read out in multiple languages such as; French, Portuguese and Chinese (spelt phonetically).

The service has been an opportunity to remind patients that they are not alone and that they have family, friends and even pets thinking of them, with messages and photos from dogs, cats, guinea pigs and even llamas.

Throughout the pandemic, SASH has also been making better use of technology to support people to keep in touch with their families and carers. Through the help of SASH Charity, electronic tablet devices have been purchased for every ward – enabling patients to have more video calls with relatives.

Jane Dickson, chief of nursing and midwifery at SASH said: “It is with regret that we took the difficult decision to limit visiting but of course it is crucial that we keep people as safe as possible and play our part in reducing the spread of infection. We know there is no real substitute for being able to visit those we love but I am so delighted that we have found so many other ways of enabling our patients and those that really matter to them to communicate. And of course we are proud that throughout this time we have maintained visiting in exceptional circumstances.

“A huge thank you to our charity and local community for the huge part they have played in enabling us to have access to devices that enable this as well as the many gifts that have come into the hospital for patients and staff. These have really lifted spirits.”

Further information on how loved ones can keep in touch can be found here.