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BLOG: Nurse from Royal Navy flagship visits frontline of St Luke’s care

Royal Navy nurse Lieutenant Laura Bisset recently took time out from her role on board Britain’s largest and most powerful warship to learn about palliative care alongside St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth specialist nursing teams.

After a solid three months at sea deployed on HMS Queen Elizabeth as part of NATO operations in Norway and Scotland, the 35-year-old Queen Alexandra’s Royal Navy Nurse wanted to use some of her annual leave to do something worthwhile and completely different that would stretch her knowledge and experience.

She certainly ticked those boxes during her time with St Luke’s, witnessing the impact of our care at our inpatient unit at Turnchapel, on the road with our urgent care service, and on the wards with our experts at University Hospitals Plymouth.

Laura first heard about St Luke’s a couple of years ago when her friend’s mother, who had Motor Neurone Disease, was cared for as an inpatient.

“The care they gave her mum was just wonderful, and that’s something that families never forget. And the support they gave my friend was incredible too.”

When Laura got in touch with St Luke’s recently, Director of Clinical Services Tricia Davies invited her to spend some time watching our teams in action, giving her first-hand experience of how the hospice puts patients and their loved ones at the centre of everything they do.

“There is a lot of fear around dying and palliative care if you are not used to it, and it’s quite daunting doing something like this when all you have known is the Navy,” admitted Laura.

“But it has been really worthwhile and meaningful and such a lovely welcoming atmosphere. Everyone seems to really enjoy their jobs, even if it can be difficult. I don’t think I was fully expecting how much I would enjoy the experience.”

Laura, who was brought up in South Wales and Devon and has a house in Saltash, joined the Royal Navy 12 years ago as a rating and carried out her military training at HMS Raleigh at Torpoint.

Because she was already a qualified nurse, she was able to go straight onto the wards at Derriford where Royal Navy personnel work as part of the hospital team between deployments to keep up their skills.

Her experience on deployment includes time in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis, with the Royal Marines in Norway and at their training centre at Lympstone, and at Hedley Court in Surrey, a rehabilitation centre for injured servicemen.

Wanting more naval experience outside hospital settings, Laura was commissioned as an officer and took up her post in primary care as Senior Nursing Officer on board HMS Queen Elizabeth about a year ago – a huge contrast to end of life care.

“It has been an incredible role where I routinely work within a GP surgery with a population at risk of 500 service personnel but when we deploy that can double to about 1,400 sailors on board.

“I can be doing anything from chronic disease reviews to responding to emergency situations. Following an amazing initiative ‘Flagship Performance’ a large part of my role revolves around health promotion. It was set up by one of the doctors on board, Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Roocroft who aims to empower the sailors to leave the ship in better physical and mental health.”

Laura found a big contrast between that busy military setting – and its generally young, fit and healthy men and women – and the calming environment of St Luke’s inpatient unit.

“I realised I didn’t actually know much about hospices, and it was a real insight to learn that people don’t necessarily die there but can come in for symptom control and in some cases can return home.

“It was wonderful to see how the nurses and health care assistants have time to sit with the patients and listen to them, explain things and find ways around it if they have problem with their medication, for example. I liked how calm it was and that no one was rushing around.

“You are really trying to optimise their quality of life and look after their symptoms, with things like good nutrition, heat packs and complimentary therapies. I liked how the patients had lovely home cooked food, views out the window and the opportunity to go out into the garden.”

Laura, who worked in community care before training as a nurse, felt privileged to also visit patients in their own homes with St Luke’s Urgent Care Team.

“It was quite moving for me, being able to go and see people in their homes, where they spend so much of their lives and where they wanted to be with their families and pets. It seemed to be quite a good place to die.

“It was lovely seeing how everything the nurses and healthcare assistants were doing was so helpful and gentle.”

Finally, Laura joined our hospital team in the more familiar setting of Derriford Hospital. She saw how St Luke’s doctors and nurses work closely with NHS teams with the aim of discharging patients at the end of life, whenever possible, but always striving to make sure each individual achieves their preferred place of care, whether that is in hospital, at home or at our specialist unit.

Laura said: “I don’t know whether hospital is the right place for people who are dying. I know it’s not always possible, but observing the way St Luke’s look after people in the hospice and in their own homes showed me the importance of such worthwhile work at a time when patients and their families need it the most.

“The care and compassion shown by all St Luke’s teams has made me realise the incredible work they do and the requirement for such an important charity within our society,” added Laura. “I can’t thank Tricia enough for organising my time with St Luke’s.”

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