When her mother died unexpectedly Alison Griffiths was left heartbroken, her pain compounded by her mum not receiving the high level of care she deserved in her final days. It was a profound experience that planted in Ali, a highly experienced nurse, the passionate desire to one day work in palliative and end of life care, reducing patients’ pain, putting them at ease and helping to ensure that their death is dignified and peaceful.
Now, having joined St Luke’s as Advanced Palliative Care Specialist Practitioner (APCSP) four months ago, Ali is realising her dream in this peripatetic role, looking after patients at home.
To qualify for such a specialist position, Ali had to complete six months’ study of complex subject matter, which she juggled with all the responsibilities of being a full-time Senior Sister at our partner organisation University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, where she managed a team of 52 staff on an acute respiratory ward. What Ali could not have foreseen, however, was that a global pandemic was on the way and that she would also be required to help quickly launch and run one of the COVID admission wards at the hospital and the step- down ward for patients recovered enough to be able to return home.
Ali said: “Being part of the emergency response was tough and exhausting but I was able to draw on all my years of nursing to help, including experience of working in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, where managing stress and constantly reprioritising was key. I was part of the intensive care team caring for wounded patients at Camp Bastion, the military, multinational-run trauma hospital.”
Listening to Ali, it is clear she is relishing being part of our charity, in a busy but less frenetic environment than the one she came from, giving her unhurried time to get to know her patients so that she can tailor care to best suit their needs. As APCSP, Ali is there to provide holistic care, along with diagnostic and treatment expertise, focussing on maintaining the highest possible quality of life for the people she looks after. The post of Advanced Nurse Practitioner is relatively new to St Luke’s and is ground-breaking, incorporating a deeper knowledge of anatomy and physiology as well as being a non-medical prescriber. These skills enable Ali to get to the very core of the patients’ symptoms, assess what is going on and then implement the best possible solutions and treatment options.
Ali said: “When I arrive on their doorstep and they see the St Luke’s uniform, the relief patients feel is often palpable because they know they’re in good hands.
“Spending time with them in their own domain helps me build that deeper level of understanding of them, not just because of what they tell me but because all around are clues as to who they are as a person, from family photos to mementoes and books. It all helps me get to know them so I can develop their bespoke treatment plan. It’s a privilege to make a difference to them at such an anxious time – I find it incredibly rewarding.”
Ali is already feeling the benefit of having a better balance between work and home life, too. She said: “My wife is a Matron at the hospital so spinning lots of plates, just as I did when I was there. Life is busy at the hospice but there’s time to reflect, too, which is so important when you’re involved in such sensitive situations. Now, I have time to breathe and a renewed sense of energy and purpose, too.”
Along with her wealth of clinical expertise, passion and energy, Ali also brings to our charity experience of helping organisations to be truly inclusive in their approach so that no-one feels discriminated against. At UHP NHS Trust, she was part of the team that pioneered the implementation of the NHS rainbow badge for staff, a symbol letting patients know they can open up about issues related to sex and gender without fear of being judged or stigmatised.
Ali said: “It’s so important for health and social care organisations everywhere to not just talk the talk but walk the walk when it comes to being inclusive, otherwise people will continue to miss out on getting the treatment that’s right for them. They need to know that they can speak to us openly and that we are their allies.”
Talking of allies, Ali credits the huge kindness that surrounds her at St Luke’s with helping her manage the steep learning curve that comes with taking on a senior role in an unfamiliar organisation.
Beaming, she said: “I can only describe arriving here as like walking into a hug – everyone is so welcoming, friendly and helpful. It’s a really nurturing environment, too, where people are encouraged and supported to give their best – just like ingredients that make up a delicious cake! Joining St Luke’s has been life-changing in the very best way.”