A NURSE and two healthcare assistants have been dismissed after they and 16 other members of staff at a York hospice broke lockdown rules when they gathered in a pub beer garden.

St Leonard’s Hospice said the incident happened on the afternoon of Sunday, May 16, before regulations were relaxed the following day.

A spokeswoman for the hospice in Tadcaster Road, which employs 221 people and cares for people with life-limiting illnesses, said the incident involved a group of 24 people - 19 of whom were hospice staff - breaking the social distancing regulations at a pub.

“At that time, Covid regulations stated that outside gatherings were limited to the rule of six, or two households, and to maintain social distancing,” she said. “It is also worth remembering that funeral wakes were limited to 15 people.

“Also, at this time at the hospice, visiting for in-patients was restricted to four people with no more than two visitors at any one time. This was in line with government guidance for healthcare providers.

“Family members who were able to visit had to maintain social distancing by the bedside and also wear PPE. On this basis, families have had to make emotive decisions about who were with their loved ones when they died.”

She said the incident was brought to the hospice’s attention on Monday, May 17 by a concerned member of staff and it immediately commenced a full internal investigation and made its board of trustees and the relevant regulators aware. “Following an extensive internal investigation, we took appropriate disciplinary action,” she said. “The allegations amounted to gross misconduct, hence why dismissal was appropriate for three members of staff.”

She said the three were a nurse and two healthcare assistants, and other members of staff were given sanctions “as appropriate” and no one was suspended. She said that central to the hospice’s swift actions was protecting the vulnerable patients it cared for.

“We have an obligation to our patients, families and staff to keep everybody safe, especially during this pandemic, which continues to be challenging,” she said. “The risk of this group of staff breaking the social distancing rules was the risk of transmission of Covid to the hospice, including our vulnerable patients.”

She said a further concern was the risk to the workforce, who were needed to continue to provide patient care.

“We took immediate advice from the local health protection team in how to manage any infection risk as a direct result of this incident.”

David Dickson, chair of trustees at the hospice, said: “As an organisation we pride ourselves in putting patient safety at the forefront of our care.

“We were made aware of a group of staff who, outside of work, were in serious breach of the lockdown and social distancing regulations in place at the time.

“We immediately commenced a full internal investigation, making the relevant regulators aware. Following this extensive investigation, we took appropriate action. Central to our decision was the ongoing safety and wellbeing of our patients and families.”

Hospice has cared for 13,000 people over 36 years

ST LEONARD’S Hospice opened just over 35 years ago, since when it has cared for about 13,000 people with life-limiting illnesses.
The idea of a hospice in York had first been suggested by four Royal College of Nursing members in 1978.
Four years of informal fundraising was followed in 1982 by the launch of a formal appeal for £750,000 by the then Archbishop of York, Stuart Blanch.
The hospice in Tadcaster Road was officially opened in June 1985 by its patron, The Duchess of Kent.
A new annexe opened in 2001, the main entrance was remodelled in 2008 and the Care Quality Commission rated the hospice as ‘outstanding’ in 2016.
The hospice is an independent charity, providing specialist palliative care, and support for local people with life limiting illnesses. 
It provides support tailored to the specific needs of patients, and their families and carers, with a wide range of services offered in a relaxed and friendly environment.
It has specialists in a wide range of roles including complementary therapy, lymphoedema care, physiotherapy, social work, bereavement, occupational therapy and spiritual care.
The hospice costs about £5.8 million a year to run and relies on donations from the public, its shops, and a small amount of public funding, as well as legacies from wills