Published on: 13 July 2020

It was a magical moment when stroke patient Michael Mouat discovered he was to become a great-grandfather for the first time via a video call with his family from his bed in Sunderland Royal Hospital.

Mr Mouat is just one of the people who have benefited from South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust’s efforts to help patients stay connected with their loved ones during their hospital stay.

With visiting at South Tyneside District Hospital and Sunderland Royal Hospital suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, staff have been enabling patients to see and speak to their loved ones via Face Time on mobile phones. For those who do not have a smartphone or tablet, the Trust has been rolling out ‘virtual visiting’ i.e. face-to-face video calls with family and friends using an iPad which has special, pre-installed technology.

Mr Mouat, 69, of South Shields, was admitted to Sunderland Royal Hospital during the pandemic following a stroke that left him with significant language difficulties which meant he was unable to call and speak to his family.

Speech and Language Therapist Caroline Ewers rang the family to update them regarding his language difficulties and to gather details to inform what therapy he would need. When it was mentioned that Mr Mouat’s grand-daughter, Alex, had discovered that she was expecting a baby boy in the autumn, Caroline felt such wonderful news should come from the family. With the help of Trust IT colleagues, a video call was arranged so that Mr Mouat’s son and grand-daughter could tell him together.

His son, also called Michael, said: ‘Given the circumstances with not being able to visit Dad in hospital, the video call we had was a Godsend. Updates from staff are great but it’s not the same as seeing the person and it made us feel so much better when we could see him. Video calling is an excellent way to help hospital patients and their families to stay in touch.”

Caroline said: “The video call was the first time Michael had seen his loved ones since his admission to hospital and he cried and laughed throughout. Despite being unable to say very much, it was clear that this interaction meant so much to him. Supporting Michael and his family to communicate was so lovely and very emotional – it’s a moment I will never forget. Visiting restrictions have had a huge impact on our inpatients and we should never underestimate how important that contact is. The iPads are a great way for staff to support families to stay in touch.”

As well as virtual visiting, the Trust has introduced the #SendingLove* initiative, whereby people can send messages, letters and photographs to their loved ones in hospital. Already, dozens of communications have been delivered to the wards.

Melanie Johnson, Executive Director of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals, said: “We know how important visiting is to patients, and their relatives, friends and carers. Sadly, we had to suspend it to protect our patients as we deal with COVID-19, apart from in exceptional circumstances such as when a patient is believed to be in the last hours of their life. However, we continue to review this position and are doing everything we possibly can to still provide our patients with vital links to their loved ones.”

* Anyone wishing to join in #SendingLove should:

complete the form on the Trust’s website (

send your message in an email: and include the patient's full name, date of birth and where they are in the hospital i.e. site and ward name

or post a letter to:

      Communications Team #sendinglove
      Freepost RTYX-GKEH-BRGJ 
      South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust
      South Tyneside District Hospital
      Harton Wing, Harton Lane
      South Shields
      NE34 0PL