An interview with Rachel Lovesy; Head of Patient Experience and Engagement for Northampton General Hospital

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your role?

I am the Head of Patient Experience & Engagement for Northampton General Hospital, and I have been in post for nearly seven years. I have two members within my team, and we make up the Patient Experience Team. My role is to ensure the voice of the patient is heard within all aspects of the hospital. This primarily involves collecting patient, carer and family feedback and identifying areas where we are doing well, and areas where we need to improve. I also support the involvement of patients within the hospital through our Patient & Family Partners.

Outside of work, I am a mum to two girls, with my youngest being just 18 months old. This has certainly been an interesting time since returning from maternity leave last October!

We hear you are running initiatives to keep people in touch with each other. Can you tell us about how these were decided upon and how they are managed?

When visiting had to stop to prevent the spread of the virus, we knew we had to get creative in the ways that we keep patients and relatives in touch with each other. Technology became our biggest asset as it allows people to stay in touch without needing to be in physical contact.

The PALS & Complaints team immediately set up a Relatives Helpline. This provides a telephone service, seven days a week to relatives who would like information on how their loved one is doing. This has been heavily used, providing support to families while also relieving some of the pressure from the wards.

We also quickly introduced electronic tablets into wards to enable patients and relatives to video call. To date, we have issued over 60 tablets, some came from old stock in the hospital, and others were donated via our Northamptonshire Health Charity. The volunteers have created a service whereby they will go to wards and facilitate calls between patients and families, freeing up the time of the nursing staff.

In addition to this, we have created our “To My Loved One” email inbox, which allows relatives to send letters and photos to their loved ones in hospital. Members of the Patient Experience Team and Patient & Nursing Services print them, and the volunteers deliver them the same day! The response volunteers collect any letters for Critical Care immediately. Initially, the service was only going to run five days a week, but the response has been wonderful, and we managed to include Saturdays, with my team taking turns. The volunteers are now going to take on weekends; providing the service on both Saturdays and Sundays, which is fantastic.

The volunteers have expanded this further by providing a service whereby the loved one can telephone and dictate their letter, which will be typed up and delivered. They are also offering a “readout” service for those patients that might not be able to read their letters at the moment. The support of the volunteers has been absolutely invaluable.

Have there been any challenges with running the To My Loved One scheme?

I think the biggest challenge was the thought of leaving letters received on Friday, until Monday. I just couldn’t do it! I came in the very first Saturday that we ran the service to do a print run and it became clear we needed to provide some level of service across the weekend. I am so glad I did this. I know it may happen, but I will do all I can to ensure a patient doesn’t pass away before they get their letter.

What advice would you give to others considering introducing this scheme?

Go for it! Be really clear on your procedure with the team, and if things change, update your system. I would also recommend you consider this as a seven-day service from the offset and factor in how you will cover it when staff are unwell or taking leave. We now have nine members in the team with access to the inbox and a rota for ensuring it’s checked regularly.

What feedback are you receiving about the To My Loved One scheme?

Feedback has been amazing; a patient that received one of the letters said the following:

“Oh, I love receiving the letters; the Volunteers are so kind as I can’t see much, so they read them out to me. They make me so happy and show me my family haven’t forgotten about me. I think they like it too, to know that they can still let me know they care. I love the fact it’s printed, I don’t have access to much technology really so I can take it home and keep it to put on my fridge and look at it on a lonely day. I think it’s fab.”

We have also had some wonderful feedback from families around the To My Loved One letters:

“The letter service has made my Grandad so happy. He looks forward to receiving them and it makes such a difference as we are not able to visit at this time. I’ve also informed other family members of this service, and they are grateful for a form of communication with our loved one as well.”

“We are so glad to be able to indirectly be in touch with my Grandad, and it is reassuring for my children to know that their Great Grandad is able to hear about how we are and see pictures of them. It’s so lovely that nurses are taking the time, in this chaotic situation to read letters to their patients, bringing them hope and happiness every day.

I know my Grandad has pictures of the children and their drawings by his bedside. I’m sure this helps take away the loneliness and give him strength. These are unsure and difficult times, yet the NHS are going above and beyond for their patients and putting on a unified front to fight this virus. Thank you!”

“With the current restrictions, it is an invaluable way for patients and their loved ones to keep in touch. As it happened, our mother Phyllis, who is 98 years old, was discharged a few days after we sent our message, and she is recovering slowly at home. We would like to thank you and all the staff at NGH for your efforts to treat her and make her stay as comfortable and stress-free as possible.”

Where should people with friends and family at Northampton General Hospital send their letters?

Anyone wanting to contact a loved one can send letters to They can also call or text the volunteers’ service on 07514 978390 to have their message passed on.

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