This being Hospice Care Week (5 – 11 October) – the annual Hospice UK campaign highlighting what it takes for hospices to provide high-quality end of life care at no cost to the patients they serve – St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth is shining a light on the vital difference its service made to a young family while in the midst of the pandemic.

When little Poppy Hammond of Tavistock had to forego cuddles with daddy Tom, 30, because the two-year-old’s suspected COVID-19 symptoms meant it wasn’t safe for her or her mother Jess to be at his bedside at St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth’s specialist unit, it felt devastating for them all. Already dealing with the heart-breaking news that Tom’s time was running short due to a brain tumour first diagnosed in his teens, the necessary separation dealt another cruel blow to the family, which includes Josh, Tom’s nine-year-old son from a previous relationship.

Jess, who married Tom in 2017 five years after they met at Plymouth’s Oceana nightclub, by which time he had undergone surgery and then further treatment for the tumour, said: “It was so hard realising Poppy and I had to isolate when all I wanted was for us to be with Tom at Turnchapel. He was so poorly by that point that I didn’t even know if we would see him again.”

As soon she and Poppy could safely emerge from isolation, Jess drove straight to Turnchapel. She said: “A nurse kindly arranged for us to see Tom through a big window in the building. The moment Poppy saw her daddy there, she ran straight up to him. She put her hand up to glass and Tom put his hand up as well. It was so lovely but also so hard because all we wanted to do was to give him a cuddle. I’m just so grateful though, that we even got that time.”

It was just a few weeks earlier that Tom has been transferred to the specialist unit following treatment at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust.

Jess said: “When it was first explained to us that Tom needed specialist care at the hospice, it felt really scary. I thought it would be a really sad place, but it didn’t feel like that. Tom was very comfortable there and said it was like a retreat, with a sea-view room, lovely meals and even a drinks trolley so the patients can enjoy a tipple. In that week before the pandemic meant visiting had to be restricted, our family and friends would come to see him all the time, Tom and Josh would play on the X-box together and Poppy loved dressing-up in the playroom. It was a just nice place to be and even nicer that Tom loved it.”

“Being the lovely, funny person he was, Tom made the nurses laugh when he’d sneak to the cleaner’s cupboard in the night and help himself to her biscuits. They told me Tom made them smile at a time when they were all working under a lot of extra pressure because of the pandemic.”

Tom was then discharged home to Tavistock so that he could spend precious time there with his loved ones around him. His care at home was made possible thanks to St Luke’s team of highly trained nurses who visit patients across Plymouth and surrounding areas to ensure their comfort and maintain their dignity so that they can live well to the end of their lives.

Jess said: “Initially, St Luke’s came once a day and then more frequently as our needs changed. They did as much as they could to help, and it meant I got a little break from looking after Tom and could spend time one-on-one with Poppy. What they did for us gave us the most amazing three weeks together at home.”

When Tom’s condition worsened, it was St Luke’s End of Life Urgent Care team that stepped in, visiting four times a day.

Jess said: “They were so kind and so calm, and because of their training they were able to alert me when Tom was nearing his last hours.

“On Tom’s last day, we made it really positive with lots of family and friends around, just as he wanted. At the end though, it was just me with him that evening. I sat by his bed, simply saying to him the kind of things he’d say to Josh and Poppy at bedtime. Then he just fell asleep. It was like he’d waited for everyone else to go so that I could have those final precious moments alone with him.”

Reflecting on her husband’s character, Jess said: “Tom was loveliest, the most laidback person you could ever meet. We were always out having fun together, going to festivals or taking the children to Tavistock Park to feed the ducks. He was amazing with Josh and Poppy, always making them laugh, playing games and making dens.

Remembering Tom’s ‘guilty pleasure’ – rap and grime music – she said: “He was a huge fan of Stormzy, and we went to see him four times. He thought his own rapping was really good, too. It wasn’t, which always amused our friends!”

Paying tribute to her beloved husband, Jess said: “Tom was the best person in the world. All my family, all his family and all our friends said so. Throughout his illness he’d say, “I’m just glad it’s me” because he wouldn’t want to watch it happening to any of us. As a husband and as a dad, he couldn’t have loved us any more if he’d tried and we couldn’t have loved him more either.

Help more families in need | Donate today

St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth provides specialist palliative care to people with life threatening illnesses and support to their families and carers, in partnership with others. The care is not just medical and nursing but incorporates emotional, social and spiritual support as well.

We wish to recruit a new trustee and a treasurer to our Board of Trustees. Trustees are responsible for leading the strategic direction of the charity. The role is primarily governance as the Senior Management team are responsible for the operational matters. The Treasurer is a key position, advising the board on the financial resources of the organisation in order to meet its present and future needs. The Treasurer is responsible for ensuring that proper financial records and procedures are maintained.

We’re seeking people with the knowledge, skills and motivation to help ensure that as St Luke’s evolves, we continue to make wise decisions that mean we can meet the challenges ahead, including reaching underrepresented groups who sometimes struggle to be heard.

Trustee, Charles Hackett, said: “Being a trustee at St Luke’s supports my personal development but more importantly allows me to use my skills to help, in some way, the community in which I live.”

Being a trustee with St Luke’s can be rewarding for many reasons, including a sense of making a difference with a well-respected charity that touches the lives of local families to gaining new experiences and forging new relationships. (For an insight into our recent work, take a look at our latest impact report.)

Fiona Field, who sits on the Organisational Risk and Audit Committee and chairs the Health & Safety Committee, said: “I give about one day per month on average, this is divided between being a member of the board, chairing the health and safety committee, visiting teams across St Luke’s and taking part in some of the fundraising activities. I have regularly attended the Open Gardens in the summertime, sold programmes on Plymouth Hoe at the Firework Championships and walked the Elmer Trail.

“I find the work interesting and rewarding and I am always proud to talk to others about the brilliant work that everyone at St Luke’s does for such a worthy cause. I am keen that the services St Luke’s offers continue to be of the highest quality possible for our patients and their families locally.”

For more information on getting involved, please contact us by e-mailing info@stlukes-hospice.org.uk

Are you accepting donations? 

We are pleased to announce that we will be accepting charity shop donations from Wednesday 16 September!

Due to the generosity of our caring community resulting in an overwhelming volume of donations, we will temporarily only be using two donation points at our Plymouth City Centre Pop-Up shop at Western Approach (former Toys r Us building) and Launceston shops. All our other charity shops will continue to temporarily pause shop donations until safer times.

Furthermore, we can only accept your kind donations on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays between 9.30am and 4pm. We are limiting to four bags or boxes per household per day to ensure our teams do not become overwhelmed and can process your donations in a COVID-19 safe way. Thank you for compiling and respecting our decisions during these challenging times.

Are you collecting furniture?

Large Item Collection

As of July 2020 our furniture collection service is operational for select collections.

Eligibility for this free service requires a minimum of three items and we will priortise collections in the Plymouth area.

Please complete this form or call us on 01752 964455 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4.30pm) for further information.

How can I help St Luke’s make the most of my donation? 

  1. Gift Aid – Did you know that by adding Gift Aid, your donations are worth 25% more to us? Gift Aid helps us care for more people in your community at no extra cost to you. Gift Aid adds 25% value to your donations; whether they’re clothes, books, chairs or a sofa. Sign up today! It only takes two minutes and costs you nothing.
  2. Good quality items – It’s really important to us that all items that you donate need to be in a sellable condition, as disposing of items we cannot sell incurs a disposal cost for us, reducing how much of the money raised goes direct to supporting our specialist care. So when gathering your donations to us please double check the following:
  • That there isn’t any damage or repair needed.
  • That all items are in a good condition, clean and working correctly – including games and jigsaws.
  • That all relevant furniture has the correct fire label attached and is stain free – unfortunately we do not have the capacity for stain removals.
  • That your item isn’t one of the items we can’t sell for health & safety, security or disposal reasons – check out our guide here.

I have some clothing and fabrics to donate but it’s not great quality, is this useful? 

Sadly, no. We really do value every time you think of us for your donations, however anything that we cannot sell ends up becoming a cost to the hospice to dispose of. We therefore, kindly request that you take any lower quality items to recycling points, rather than to our donation drop-off points, to avoid reducing our funds for patient care and the effectiveness of your donation.

Please only donate clean good quality items i.e. clothes and fabrics in good condition, fully functioning, without tears or stains. We do not have the facilities to repair or wash your garment. Thank you.

When your vital work caring for terminally ill people already takes its toll on you emotionally, how do you cope when it is made so much more challenging by the pandemic and its impact on not only the families St Luke’s serves, but the welfare of you and your own loved ones, too?

Selina Rogers and Becci Stafford are Healthcare Assistants (HCAs) with our End of Life Urgent Care Service, which runs seven days a week. In partnership with Marie Curie, it provides co-ordinated, bespoke end of life care and support to patients who need this at home during a time of crisis or change in their condition. The team’s remit extends across Plymouth and out as far as Salcombe, Tavistock and the moors, too.

As HCAs, Selina and Becci are central to the high-calibre care the team provides, ensuring our patients are as comfortable as possible – and their loved ones as at ease as possible – in the midst of very challenging circumstances. The ‘storm’ of the pandemic has meant that their sensitivity and compassion have been even more critical than ever, with the past few months seeing them pull out all the stops to remain the reassuring presence families desperately need, all while managing their own anxieties and concerns around COVID-19.

Selina said: “Helping to look after people who are dying is not an easy job, but we do it because we understand what a difference it makes to patients when their dignity is respected and they feel understood. We know how hard it is for their family members, too, who are often shouldering a lot of the caring responsibilities for the person who is terminally ill.

“That’s why we’ve been determined to maintain the outstanding service so many rely on, despite the many challenges of carrying out our work during the pandemic. As with NHS frontline staff, we’ve had to use all the necessary PPE and though we understand how essential it is, it has been very tough knowing patients can’t see our smiles, or feel the warmth of our hugs or the reassurance of our hand on their shoulder.

“It goes against our natures not to be tactile, so we’ve adapted by telling them when we’re smiling, and even saying to them, “It’s right now that I’d have given you a hug”, just to make sure they know how much we care.”

Even more difficult has been the shock of seeing their patients die much more quickly than in pre-pandemic times. Whereas normally patients live for up to around 40 days from the team’s initial visit, giving time for a comforting familiarity to build between them, many have sadly passed away within just one or two days.

Becci said: “It has felt really hard comprehend at times, especially seeing them looking reasonably healthy one day and finding out that sadly, they have died the next.

“We understand the reasons for this – many people have been getting referred to us much later than they normally would because of the difficulties they’ve had accessing their GP during lockdown, or deteriorating more rapidly due to the pandemic delaying their hospital treatment – but understanding it doesn’t take away the shock and sadness we feel.

“As a team we’ve all had to pull together more than ever to help each other through because every one of us has found it very hard-going.”

Of course, as well as their care and concern for their patients and the families around them, our clinical teams have also faced making tough personal sacrifices to reduce their own loved ones’ risk of contracting the virus.

Becci, who has young children, made the heart-wrenching decision to live separately from them for seven weeks, taking them to live with their father to help protect them while she cared for two patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

“I felt huge guilt in choosing to stay apart from my children, and although I knew it was the right thing to do, I struggled. It’s at times like that I appreciate the team around me even more. At various times, we’ve all been close to breaking point due to the fear of the virus, anxiety and fatigue, but we’ve got through by being there for one another, laughing and crying together. As a unit, we’re stronger than ever.”

Selina concurs: “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, but we have so much empathy for each other and we’re like a family now. We’ve had superb leadership from Sharon Mayer throughout and all our nurses have been amazing, too. It gives you great faith in your team, knowing the resilience that’s been forged through what we’ve all been through.”

Listening to Becci and Selina, it’s clear from the emotion in their voices that they’ve been so tested in recent months yet remain completely dedicated to those in their care.

Becci said: “When a family thanks you for being alongside them from the very first visit to the last, saying how that continuity was made such a big difference to them, it’s incredibly fulfilling. It feels really special.”

For most people, changing jobs and joining the staff of a new organisation can be a time of trepidation as well as excitement – but what is it like when your arrival and induction happen to coincide with a global pandemic?  Claire Fisher, who joined us as Head of Finance in early June, shares the background that led to her joining our charity and reflects on her first six weeks in post during such an unprecedented time.

Claire said: “Being born and bred in Plymouth, the name of St Luke’s was very familiar to me and I’ve always known it to be synonymous with dignity, respect and compassion. So, when I heard about the opportunity to join as Head of Finance, it really sparked my interest and I wanted to find out more.

“My whole career has revolved around finance, which is not that surprising given that maths was my favourite subject at school, and it was joining Plymouth City Council at the age of 18 that gave me the chance to train and qualify as an accountant. Then, when Plymouth became a unitary authority, in 1998, I was promoted to the role of Group Accountant, leading a team providing technical accountancy support to the whole authority, on topics such as VAT and treasury management. I also took a lead role in the production and audit of the statutory accounts and submission of government returns.

“The council played a really important part in my life, and not simply because it’s where I spent the first 24 years of my career. It’s was also where I met my husband, but later – after we had our children – my perspective began to change and I found myself seeking a new professional direction where I could hopefully see more of a tangible positive impact for my efforts.  Teaching was a career I’d considered at school and, though I decided again not to take that path, the idea of broadening my horizons and working in a school remained attractive.

“It was the opportunity to join Lipson Co-operative Academy as Assistant Business Manager, in 2013, that saw me take the leap into a very different work environment. I had the autonomy to review and shape all aspects of the school’s financial activities, and I’m proud of the improvements I made during my seven years there.  I also managed other aspects of the school business activities, including main reception, which helped me to get involved in all aspects of school life.”

“I wasn’t actively seeking a change of job when the advert for the Head of Finance role at St Luke’s was pointed out to me by a friend.  However, the chance to develop professionally – while also making a valuable contribution to one of the charities I personally support – made it an opportunity not to be missed!  For me, part of the attraction of working for a charity is that rather than the focus being on expenditure, as in my previous roles, the key is to develop and sustain income streams.  Of course, the delivery of quality services to local people is at the heart of what we do here, and that has been an important aspect for me throughout my career.

“What no-one could have foreseen, of course, was the pandemic and the huge impact it would have on everyone’s lives, including at work. I won’t pretend that my induction period has been without its challenges, given the very unusual circumstances, but the warmth of the welcome I’ve received from everyone has been truly humbling and helped me to quickly feel part of the team. In particular, my Finance team colleagues have gone out of their way to help me settle in.

“I’ve really appreciated the friendliness and support, especially as I joined just a week before the main annual audit, an exceptionally busy time made all the more demanding by the additional workload brought about because of the COVID-19 situation, including the financial modelling that’s been urgently required to help our charity steer its way through these unchartered waters and keep providing such outstanding end of life care.

“This role and the organisation itself both feel a really good fit for me. My great auntie and my husband’s auntie were both cared for at Turnchapel, where I’m based (though currently doing some of my work from home), so I already knew it was an uplifting place, and I feel a real affinity with all that St Luke’s stands for.

“I only have to look as far as the messages that come in with some of the donations to sense the overwhelming love and respect our community has for St Luke’s and the fact there are so many ‘stories’ lying behind the £ signs I see in our accounts. For example, there was one just recently from a regular volunteer, who said she was making a donation in lieu of putting in her usual shifts – she wanted to continue contributing to the cause she holds so dear while she awaits the call to return to her voluntary role when it’s safe to do so.

“That sums it up for me. St Luke’s is the city’s best-loved and most respected charity, and I feel excited and proud to now be playing my part in helping to ensure a sustainable future for the vital service it provides.”

Written by Dr Jeff Stephenson, Consultant at St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth

I didn’t pay much attention to the news stories about Wuhan, and the Facebook posts from fellow Christians there asking for prayer. I probably said a few ‘arrow prayers’ but didn’t really engage. It was all far away, and it wouldn’t ever impact us. I’m challenged once again to widen my circle of concern and engagement.

COVID-19 is now here. Changes we have been talking about around our ways of working get a kick-start as staff move out of buildings and embrace technology. Skype and PPE intrude on working days. I dislike both of them. The very thing that brought me into hospice is the human contact. Presence and proximity and touch are fundamental to palliative care. It’s not the same caring for the dying from behind the barriers of mask and gloves.

I read of the experience of Italian colleagues who found that palliative care had to be “brutally” adapted. Early on in our own experience it is restrictions on visiting that injure most, both families and staff. Seemingly inhumane and rapidly changing guidance, in the name of safety. And common sense in applying the guidance for a while goes out of the window, a testimony to the prevalent fear. Thankfully, pragmatism and compassion soon prevail for those at the end of life.

I sense the fear all around. I sense it amongst some of our staff. Society’s new mantra is ‘Stay safe’. Precautions are necessary, but what are such messages doing to the collective psyche in a culture that already idolises safety? I reflect on the early Christians who stayed behind in Carthage and other cities across the Roman Empire to care for plague victims, and the fruit of their service and sacrifice.

Stories from London start to mirror those from Italy, and we begin to take seriously the possible impact on our region. There is talk of a local Nightingale unit. This is a defining hour. Inwardly I sense that it isn’t going to be as bad as they are predicting here. We are not London. I tell colleagues that, based on prophetic conviction rather than science. But I prepare for the worst and trust for the best. And we need to support the wider healthcare community in this crisis or else the credibility of hospices may be in doubt.

We adapt our community and hospital support, and we temporarily increase the number of our beds (all with precious piped oxygen) from twelve to eighteen. We offer to help out with the Nightingale. The option of us taking COVID patients comes to the table.

I meditate for several days on worship and sacrifice. I am genuinely not afraid for myself. I dwell in Psalm 91, reciting it aloud every morning when I arrive on the ward, declaring its truths over the hospice, staff and city. But I am burdened by the possibility of losing one of my nursing or medical colleagues. It seems a reasonable sacrifice to lay down one’s life while trying to save others. But almost all our patients are already dying. Laying down one’s life to enable them to have a better experience? If I died as a direct result of my work, wouldn’t that be a terrible waste? A life poured out in service and worship is never a waste. Greater love has no man than this…..

I recommend that we isolate part of the hospice to take patients dying with or from COVID. It is the right thing to do but it will put staff in harm’s way. I tell my team that I will personally attend any COVID patients admitted to the unit, even if it means coming in when I am not meant to be at work. Their response is humbling and inspiring. They won’t hear of it. In fact, they will preferentially protect me, as my age puts me at higher risk.

The kindness of strangers is all around us in this crisis. It makes me believe that great blessing will come out of it. That and of course the certain knowledge that God works all things for good to those who love him (Romans 8:28).

As the weeks go by it feels like a bit of a ‘phoney war’. There have been cases in the city, and some deaths and the heart-breaking stories surrounding those. But the expected surge hasn’t happened here.

A month on there has been no need for our eight designated COVID beds, so we open them up again to general palliative care. All our services have been strangely quiet. Where are all the ‘usual’ patients? We have had hundreds of empty hospital beds, everything gearing up for a deluge that thankfully never comes.

Three months on and we still haven’t had a patient in the hospice with confirmed COVID.

Now the talk is about the ‘even bigger’ second wave that is going to hit us over the winter. Here we go again. I refuse to buy into that kind of fear. But the toll on staff is showing. Call it ‘COVID fatigue’ if you like, but fatigue seems too bland a description. There is a pervading weariness, bordering on exhaustion in some.

The ‘usual’ patients are coming back, but are generally more poorly than before, often more advanced. The turnover for all teams is ‘brisk’. The emotional impact of the drip feed exposure to suffering is intensified by the post-adrenaline crash, and defences on the line between self-preservation and the need to embrace it in order to engage meaningfully can seem all the more fragile.

But there is hope. And learning. And blessing. Some incredible blessing – He floods the darkness with brightness, even the darkness of the shadow of death (Job 12:22). We talk about and plan for restoration. I am immensely proud of those I work with. Our services will never be the same again – and that for the better. We have shown ourselves to be agile and flexible and resilient. There have been tensions along the way, but we have a greater cohesiveness across clinical teams. We have collaborated effectively with external services. We stepped up to the plate and responded to the need and we will reap the benefits of that. And we have been given the opportunity and privilege of redefining who we are and what we do going forward.

by Dr Jeff Stephenson, Consultant at St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth
*end*

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Following official safety advice relating to mass participation events during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the city’s best-loved charities has announced the cancellation of two of its flagship fundraising events for this year.

Check your inbox… participants already signed up to Men’s Day Out or Midnight Walk have already been contacted by us via email to explain the cancellation process.

St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth is not letting lockdown restrictions dampen the community spirit of its many ardent supporters though. Quite the reverse! Having made the difficult decision to cancel the popular Men’s Day Out, sponsored by IU Energy, and ladies’ Midnight Walk events, after previously hoping to just postpone – and recognising the disappointment this will bring to the thousands who had signed up to take part – it is inviting local men and women to create their own fundraising challenge instead.

Sponsorship money raised by those who sign up for the charity’s Make your own Midnight Walk event this summer, in collaboration with Nash & Co Solicitors (24 July – 31 August), will help ensure the much-loved charity can continue to provide bespoke end of life care for terminally ill patients at home, in hospital and at its specialist unit at Turnchapel, and support them and their loved ones during these turbulent times.

Whether participants choose to walk, jog or run, and whether they take on the challenge solo, with members of their household – children are welcome – or friends (including the four-legged variety!), their personalised event will be an opportunity to have fun – safely – in the great outdoors. For the many who look forward to taking part in Men’s Day Out and Midnight Walk as a tribute to their lost loves ones, it is also a chance to keep the memory of that special person alive and celebrate their life.

Penny Hannah, Head of Fundraising at St Luke’s, said: “Over the years, Men’s Day Out and our ladies’ Midnight Walk have become legendary in our city with thousands taking part. They’ve done us proud, highlighting the need for local hospice care and raising hundreds of thousands of pounds to ensure our vital service continues.

“Cancelling both events for this year is disappointing for our supporters and us, but it’s the right thing to do to protect our community during the pandemic. It does mean though, that alternative ways of fundraising are key to our charity surviving in these uncertain times.

“That’s why we’re calling on existing supporters and new to sign up to Make your own Midnight Walk. Not only is registering easy and completely free of charge, there’s the flexibility to do everything from a gentle walk or jog to a full-on marathon distance. Stay close to your own doorstep or head to a favourite destination, as long as it is safe to do so.

“What counts is taking part because it’s the sponsorship raised by sharing your JustGiving page with family, friends and neighbours that will help keep St Luke’s doing what we do best, being the professional comfort blanket our patients and their families need now more than ever.

“This is a great opportunity for people of all ages to have fun while doing good in their community, before we can all come together again for our mass participation events in safer times.”

To sign up and to get more information to Make your own Midnight Walk, visit www.stlukesmidnightwalk.co.uk

Check your inbox… participants already signed up to Men’s Day Out or Midnight Walk have already been contacted by us via email to explain the cancellation process.

St Luke’s is continuing to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic closely. The charity will contact each person who registers an event to ensure they are aware of the latest official advice relating to social distancing before their event takes place.

In May, at the height of the pandemic, Dr Doug Hooper, Consultant in Palliative Medicine in the St Luke’s team at Derriford, shared how it felt to be ‘in the eye of the storm’ at the hospital, with this specialist team extending their work to support the hospital in caring for COVID-19 patients. Nearly two months on, with such admissions steadily decreasing, two of his colleagues – nurse Linzie Collins and Dr Roger Smith – explain how the experience has been for them, and how the team is adapting as it moves into this new phase.

Linzie, who joined the team in February 2019 after nursing patients at Turnchapel, said: “I think what’s been most remarkable is the way everyone – both in our team and across the wider hospital – has pulled together, supporting each other and quickly adapting to the huge amount of change that’s had to happen quickly due to the gravity of the pandemic.

“It’s been tough at times with new changes daily, sometimes even hourly, but what’s always been at the forefront of our minds is making sure we’ve all been as well equipped as possible to give our very best care to patients who are in their last weeks, days and hours of life.

“Not only did the hospital undergo a complete transformation, with many wards moved or designated as COVID-specific – and Oncology being temporarily relocated to the nearby Nuffield hospital to free up capacity – there was also the redeployment of many staff, including nurses from other specialities who were assigned to our team to help us cope with the anticipated surge in patients needing end of life care. Now that we’re seeing less people with the virus, they’ve been able to return to their usual roles.

“My work has included covering the COVID wards as well as looking after non-COVID patients, which has given me some low-level anxiety because I’m always aware of the risks involved, but it’s been so helpful that this responsibility is shared with my colleagues.

“What’s struck me is how positive and supportive everyone has been, despite the undeniable fatigue that set in coping with the crisis. We’ve all pulled together, and I especially want to thank St Luke’s Clinical Admin, who’ve continued to be a lifeline for us, handling calls and making sure things run smoothly, despite having to do all their work off-site at home.”

Linzie’s colleague Dr Roger Smith is working with St Luke’s as part of his training in palliative care.

He said: “Fortunately, Plymouth has not seen the very high number of COVID-19 cases some other cities have had, but we’ve seen a steady stream of people admitted to the hospital because of the virus, and this has been over a prolonged period. We’ve done really well as a team to manage it, thanks to excellent teamwork and the strong leadership we have, but I won’t deny it’s been challenging at times.

“Not only have we been working with the uncertainty the crisis has brought, it was difficult using the necessary PPE with FFP (filtering face-piece), which looks a bit like a gas mask and can feel hot and uncomfortable.

“Of course, there is the emotional side, too. We’ve been supporting relatives whose loved one is dying without them by their side. However, we’ve been grateful for technology such as phones and iPad screens that’s meant that at least some could maintain some sense of connection. Nonetheless, it’s been heart-breaking to see.

Looking ahead, Roger is uncertain as to what future weeks might bring, given the number of tourists and second-home owners expected in the region soon with lockdown restrictions easing.

He said: “While it is good to see a steady decline in cases, I think our popularity as a holiday destination could make us more vulnerable than some other areas, so we need to remain vigilant. We also need to be well prepared in case of a second wave of cases in the winter months, when traditionally NHS resources are already more stretched.”

Both Roger and Linzie are also concerned that currently at Nuffield they are already seeing an increased number of cancer patients who need palliative care.

Linzie said: “It seems some people are presenting later than they normally would, perhaps because they haven’t been able to access the treatment they need due to the pandemic or because of wanting to avoid what they regard as them placing ‘additional pressure’ on the NHS. We want to reiterate the NHS’s message that it’s vitally important you don’t put off seeking medical help if you’re concerned about your health, and that you don’t miss your appointments.

“The past few months have been emotionally and physically tough, but we will manage whatever lies ahead by making sure we look after ourselves and each other, including taking some much-needed annual leave to bolster our resilience.

“We’ll continue to be here for those who need us, and do whatever we can to make such a difficult time that little bit easier for them and their loved ones.”

His gentle humour, a shared visit to Stonehenge and The Beatles’ music are just three of the things that Suzy Bennett thinks about, remembering her much-loved dad Jim Tozer, who sadly died last October, aged 68.

With today being the Plymouth comedian’s first Father’s Day without this special man, who received our care at home before he passed away, she will be spending it with her mum Jeanette, having a ‘duvet day’ as they reminisce, looking through photos from family holidays with Jim and watching films he used to enjoy with them.

While being on lockdown because of the pandemic means they can’t be joined at home by Suzy’s brother Simon and his children Amy, Thomas, Robert and James, all of whom dearly loved spending time with their grandad, they’ll have a ‘drive-by’ visit from them or link up via video-call instead.

Perhaps, too, there’ll be a visit from ‘Pauly’, the friendly blackbird who often appeared in the garden of the family home when Jim was in in his last months of life and who continues to be a regular there.

Suzy said: “It was typical of Dad’s humour that he named him Pauly after Paul McCartney because he was a huge Beatles fan and was thinking of their song ‘Blackbird’. That still makes me smile.

“Music was so much part of Dad’s life. He used to spend hours upstairs writing, recording or just listening to his favourite artists. That’s why we’ve left his room with his guitar and PlayStation just as it was. And the house is full of items emblazoned with the words ‘All You Need is Love’ – the classic Beatles’ song that was special to him.”

Thinking of Father’s Days past, Suzy remembers happy times when the family visited Plymouth Hoe and tucked into fish and chips or ice-cream.

She said: “It was all quite low-key because Dad didn’t like a fuss, and that was very much in keeping with the modest man he was. I miss him so much, and even now catch myself thinking that he’ll still pop his head around the door at any moment.

“Mum and I still talk about Dad all the time, and Father’s Day will be no different. The lyrics to ’All You Need is Love’ seem all the more poignant now. It’s hard being without him and sometimes I struggle but my love for him continues and the memories I have of him go forward with me.”

Learn more how St Luke’s can support you through bereavement.

“It’s almost an over-used phrase these days, but I want my children to know it really is okay not to be okay. If they feel happy and want to have fun, that’s great, but if they feel sad or anxious they don’t have to pretend otherwise.”

While she knows this Father’s Day will be poignant for her and her two children because sadly, her beloved husband Matt is no longer here to share the family occasion, Sarah Geoffrey will be making sure – as she always does – that Eloise, 12, and Dylan, 5, know it’s fine for them to express whatever emotions they are feeling inside.

Our community team cared for Matt at home before he died of cancer in 2018, and the family was supported throughout that time – as well as beyond – by our dedicated Family and Children’s Support Worker, Lisa.

Sarah said: “Being as sensitive we could, Matt and I always tried to be as open as possible with our children about his illness, but after he died it took me a while to realise that there’s no point pretending with them when I’m not feeling okay.

“With the help of St Luke’s and good friends, I’ve learned there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. There are no rules, and when I’m having a tough day, being honest with Eloise and Dylan – in age-appropriate way – is important because it teaches them that they can be real, too.

“Them missing their daddy and feeling angry and sad that he’s not here anymore is completely natural, so at the times they’re feeling that way, it’s healthy for them to express those emotions rather than suppressing them.”

Sarah’s approach then, is to play Father’s Day by ear, respecting that being different ages and personalities Eloise and Dylan often like to go about things differently.

She said: “Eloise tends to keep things low-key and doesn’t want others to feel they need to make a fuss of her because she’s lost her dad. She always lets her friends know it’s okay for them to talk about their own dads though, and her thoughtfulness towards them makes feel proud. Dylan still enjoys making a special Father’s Day card, which he now gives to his grandad – my dad – who we’ll spend time with on the day, having fun in the garden.

“While Matt won’t be with us in person, we’ll be thinking of him, his wicked sense of humour and all the happy times we shared. We’ll go through the memory boxes the children made and look at all our photos, taking our time and remembering how very special he was.”

Find out how St Luke’s can support your child through bereavement with Patches.