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'Like a punch in the gut' - Sharon's heartbreak during visit to hospice

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RTÉ broadcaster Sharon Ní Bheoláin is asking the public to support coffee mornings in aid of hospice charities

RTÉ broadcaster Sharon Ní Bheoláin is asking the public to support coffee mornings in aid of hospice charities

RTÉ broadcaster Sharon Ní Bheoláin is asking the public to support coffee mornings in aid of hospice charities

RTÉ anchor Sharon Ní Bheoláin said she felt she'd been "punched in the gut" after she witnessed families gathered round windows to visit loved ones at a hospice.

Ms Ní Bheoláin is asking the public to support hospice charities with a socially distanced coffee to "shine a light in the dark" for patients and staff during Covid-19.

The Nine O'Clock News anchor was so "moved" by a recent visit to St Francis Hospice in Raheny, Dublin, she agreed to become an ambassador.

"When I visited last week, to see visitors huddled around windows, in the gardens, it does something to you," she said.

"When I witnessed all that, when I saw what the virus was doing to our sick and dying, depriving them of joy, company, and touch, on the final leg of their journey.

"When I saw that helplessness among staff, I felt I couldn't say no to becoming an ambassador.

"I was reluctant when I was asked to be the ambassador, as I didn't want it to look phoney because I hadn't been affected by Covid, or the hospice service, so I was reluctant.

"But I did what any good journalist would do, I visited and I knew if I was invested in the story, which I am, I would become the ambassador to help promote this vital message.

Dignity

"I went up there last week and it was like a punch in the gut. I walked into the hospice pre-Covid and it was like being enveloped in a great big hug - it's a place of warmth, compassion, dignity, an uplifting space.

"It's really difficult that staff have had to tell people, on their final journey in life, to only bring so many family members into the room.

"It's distressing for the staff and patients. Before Covid, entire families came and went into patients' rooms, day and night.

"But last week, when I visited, the first thing you're met with is hand sanitiser, visors, PPE.

"The staff were explaining how difficult it was to me, how they almost feel a bit forgotten.

"There's so much focus on the virus that their culture, their ethos, that humanity has been turned on its head over the last six months."

Ms Ní Bheoláin praised hospice staff and volunteers for ensuring they provide "dignity, care, compassion and kindness," but now, more than ever before, she felt support was needed.

Together for Hospice have launched this year's hospice coffee morning with Bewley's.

They are asking the public to organise socially distanced or online coffee gatherings on Thursday, September 24, to raise funds for hospices across Ireland.

Ms Ní Bheoláin said she'd been upset to see a salon, a family room and coffee shop - facilities that helped provide happy spaces for hospice patients - had been closed down during the pandemic.

"They were packed with boxes of PPE," she said. "I just thought we need to shine a light on this darkness and what Covid has done to our hospice services.

"The staff will go to the ends of the earth to help patients, but even they have talked to me about feeling distressed because Covid has taken an enormous toll on them."

Those who can't attend a coffee morning can text COFFEE to 50300 to donate €4. Service Provider: LIKECHARITY. Helpline: 076 6805278