A Kingsbridge man, passionate about protecting the specialist service that ensures local people with terminal illness receive the high-quality care they need – and deserve – at the end of their lives, has taken up a new voluntary role with the charity carrying out this vital work.

Colin Pincombe has recently been appointed Impact Volunteer Partner with St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth. He is now sending out a rallying call to all like-minded people in the South Hams, asking them to join him in giving some of their spare time to help revitalise local recognition for the charity and build its resilience for the years to come.

Colin has had a long career in business, chairing NHS Trusts and, more recently, as a Trustee of Rowcroft Hospice. He is currently Chair of South Hams Hospital League of Friends.

St Luke’s is committed to caring for patients in the place that’s right for them, which for many is in the comfort of their own homes. Not only does this enable them to stay close to their loved ones, it reduces the need for them to travel into Plymouth for hospital treatment. This is of even greater importance for people living in isolated rural areas, where accessing all kinds of services can be more difficult. St Luke’s covers the whole of the South Hams district except Chillington to Dartmouth, which is served by Rowcroft Hospice.

While the hospice gives tailored care and support to patients and their families at no cost to those who receive it, this service does not come cheap to the charity. With people living longer and with more complex conditions, referrals are growing year on year, which increases pressure on its limited resources.

As an independent charity, St Luke’s relies on donations and fundraising from the communities it serves so that no-one who needs expert, compassionate care at the end of their life has to miss out. The pandemic has meant a particularly uncertain year for the hospice, with its income impacted by the temporary closure of its charity shops as well as the postponement of its mass participation events, such as Midnight Walk, until safer times.

Speaking about his new voluntary role with St Luke’s, Colin said: “The economic climate is only going to get tougher for everyone, including charities, so if we want to have the assurance that St Luke’s can continue serving our communities in the years ahead, now is the time for us to take action and show our support.

“That’s why I’m asking fellow South Hams residents from all walks of life to join me in spreading awareness of St Luke’s in our local area with a view to raising funds and recruiting volunteers to ensure the sustainability of the charity. I believe that together, we can make an important difference for our community.”

Penny Hannah, Head of Fundraising at St Luke’s, said: “Many people naturally associate the name St Luke’s with Plymouth but in fact our team is on the road 365 days a year, including across the South Hams, so that people living and dying with terminal illness know they have not been forgotten.

“I am delighted Colin has joined St Luke’s as Impact Volunteer Partner. He brings with him a great deal of valuable experience in the healthcare sector as well as an understanding of the pressures facing our charity, making him a real asset. We are tremendously grateful to him for getting behind St Luke’s to help us be here for local families for generations to come.”

Due to the pandemic, no meetings will take place in person until it is safe to do so, but to register your interest in joining Colin in giving a little spare time to support the vital work of St Luke’s in your local area, please email him at cpincombe@stlukes-hospice.org.uk or call St Luke’s on 01752 492626.

Much-loved local charity St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth is sending out a rallying call to the community to take on the challenge of quite literally going the extra mile to support its vital service while staying safe, close to home.

The compassionate care and support St Luke’s provides for terminally ill people across Plymouth and surrounding areas is given at no cost to them or their families, but it does not come cheap to the charity. The extra pressure of looking after more people throughout the pandemic – coupled with a decline income due to cancelled mass participation fundraising events and the temporary closure of its shops – means community support is needed now, more than ever, to keep its vital service running.

The charity, whose team gives not just hands-on medical care to patients but also the crucial emotional support and practical advice they and their families need at the most vulnerable of times, is inviting people to sign up for its Landmark Challenge this month to raise much-needed funds.

The challenge is flexible, giving everyone who registers the opportunity to walk, run or cycle the distance to a well-known landmark – either a special one of their own choosing or Yelverton Rock (9 miles), Tintagel Castle (39 miles), Land’s End (85 miles), Stonehenge (131 miles) or Big Ben (213 miles). (Mileage is approximate from Plymouth city centre.)

Though they may not be able to get to their chosen landmark in person due to the national Covid-19 safety restrictions in place, participants can use their choice of GPS tracking app and clock up the miles virtually, either outside within their local area or even at home.

Speaking about the Landmark Challenge, Penny Hannah, Head of Fundraising at St Luke’s, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for our local community to take on a physical challenge to suit any ability, particularly at a time when many people want to be more active during lockdown because they recognise how beneficial it can be to body and mind.

“Other people may choose to get involved because they want to raise awareness of the vital service St Luke’s provides to so many families or because they want to celebrate the life of a lost loved one by taking part in memory of them.

“Whatever their motivation, what matters is that they’re not going for just a walk or run. The sponsorship they raise with every step will make an important difference, ensuring more local people with terminal illness get the high-quality care they need – and deserve – at the end of their lives.”

Sign up for the Landmark Challenge by 31 March 2021 at here – you’ll have five weeks from your sign-up date to complete the challenge and all participants will receive a medal to celebrate your achievement.

As we head towards the close of this extraordinary year, which has seen our clinical staff work so tirelessly to keep giving their compassionate care, members of our team based at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust share their reflections on these past turbulent months, during which time the hospital’s ‘one big team’ ethos has been tested as never before.

Earlier this year, when the hospital was in the eye of the storm, Specialist Nurses Linzie Collins and Becky Harris were among the St Luke’s staff who joined forces with hospital doctors and nurses on the frontline, looking after seriously ill patients on the COVID red wards. As they stepped up to do this, working flat out, their colleagues at the hospital were also pulling out all the stops to ensure that the terminally ill patients nearing the end of their lives still received the specialist care they required.

Listening to Linzie and Becky talk about their experience then – and how things have been since – with admissions rising again more recently, it is clear that it is not just their expert hands-on care that has made such an important difference, ensuring patients are more comfortable and at ease. It is also the way they have communicated with patients’ families, combining sensitivity and kindness with the clarity that is so necessary to gaining relatives’ understanding of their loved one’s prognosis.

It is this same style of compassionate communication that they have used to help their hospital colleagues feel more confident in having these difficult conversations with patients’ families, including not only newly qualified nurses who suddenly found themselves on the frontline of COVID care, but more experienced staff, too.

Linzi said: “Before joining the team at Derriford I nursed patients at Turnchapel, where having these honest conversations with families happens on a very regular basis. It is never easy but you realise that in being open with them and, in a sensitive way, being clear about what they should expect is actually the kindest thing you can do because it helps prepare them – as much as possible – for what is going to happen. It gives them the opportunity to tell their loved one all that they feel they want to say before that person dies, which helps bring them comfort and more peace of mind.”

Preparing their hospital counterparts to have these open discussions wasn’t the only way Linzie and Becky helped them with communication, though. Recognising that UHP NHS Trust nurses often have difficulty finding the time to make calls to patients’ families, Linzie developed a ‘communication folder’ containing a simple form to record dates, times and brief notes of conversations that took place.. Thanks to the simplicity of the form, it can easily be updated no matter what the time of the day or night the call takes place, even if it’s at 3am.

Linzie said: “Nurses are so busy that they just don’t have time to be hunting around for information. I felt this was something simple I could do to help make things a little easier, with all key details about conversations with family and friends recorded in one central place.

“It was rewarding being able to help in this way to relieve some of the pressure on the hospital team, who have been so brave and are so exhausted, and they welcomed our suggestions and help with this.

“Something that it really brought home to Becky and me is that in working for St Luke’s we have the benefit of time to spend getting to know our patients – it’s all part of our holistic approach. Time is such a precious commodity at the hospital and there are always so many demands on the nurses – they have to prioritise giving clinical care above all else.”

Of course, we can’t mention communication without highlighting how Linzie, Becky and their colleagues had to think ‘outside the box’ to help dying patients – and the loved ones who couldn’t be with them in person because of the pandemic – feel as connected as possible, despite the physical distance between them. Technology had a big part to play here.

Becky said: “I’ll never forget witnessing a Zoom call we facilitated between a patient and his daughter. As you’d expect, she was devastated that she couldn’t be at his side to hold his hand, but she was at least able to tell him over and again how much she loved him. It was heart-breaking to see, but I’m so reassured that she was able to have that conversation with her dad. In time, knowing he heard her say how precious he was to her will – I hope – help heal her memories.”

“Normal grief patterns have been lost in COVID-19 because of how fast things have happened, the restrictions on families visiting their loved one and even funerals having to be done differently, so being able to help – even in small ways – feels very rewarding for us.”

The final word goes to Dr Doug Hooper, Consultant in Palliative Medicine in our team at Derriford. He said: “Although the virus means people have had to stay apart in a way we have never witnessed before, at the hospital we have seen how in another sense it has brought everyone closer together. It is not just our St Luke’s team who have gone over and above but colleagues right across the hospital. While this year has felt exhausting and relentless, we have all learned from each other and are stronger for it.”

A local charity that’s pulled out all the stops to continue its vital service for terminally ill patients and their families, despite the huge challenges of doing so during the pandemic, is calling on the community to support its annual Light up a Life appeal and are inviting people to dedicate a bauble in memory of their lost loved ones this festive season, which will also help ensure that people facing their last Christmas can make the most of every moment with their loved ones.

The appeal comes near the close of a year like no other, in which the charity has seen its income fall dramatically due to the pandemic forcing its charity shops shut temporarily as well as the postponement of its mass participation fundraising events, such as Midnight Walk and Men’s Day Out, until safer times next year. This is against a backdrop in which demand is growing for the specialist care and support St Luke’s provides, with people living longer and with more complex conditions.

Recognising that Christmas is a special time of celebration, St Luke’s is inviting people to dedicate a bauble in memory of their loved one, who once lit up their life. This can be done via the charity’s website at www.stlukes-hospice.org.uk/light regardless of whether or not your loved one was cared for by the charity.

Nina Wearne, Community & Events Fundraising Manager at St Luke’s, said: “If this year has taught us all anything, it is the importance of compassion and community spirit.

“We understand that for many people whose loved one has died, Christmas is a time of reflection and remembrance, and our Light up a Life appeal is an opportunity to pay tribute to that special person while helping St Luke’s reach more families who will need us this festive season.

“Christmas may look a bit different this year but it is still little kindnesses that make a big difference to people going through a very difficult time. It’s the support our charity receives from our community that enables us to give not only the high-quality care our patients need and deserve at the end of their lives but the comfort and reassurance that helps their families, too.”

As in previous years, St Luke’s is also inviting the community to come together to take part in its Light up a Life remembrance service. On Tuesday 15 December at 7.30pm, you can tune into the service live from The Minster of St Andrew’s in Plymouth while staying in the comfort of your own living room – simply visit www.stlukes-hospice.org.uk/light and follow the instructions on screen. This is an opportunity to join with others also reflecting on cherished memories of their lost loved ones while watching the dancing flames of hundreds of candles flickering in their memory.

Nina said: “There is something special about people coming together to celebrate the lives of those who have gone but are not forgotten, especially at Christmas. While we cannot do that in person this year, our virtual service will be no less uplifting.”

Working across the wards of University Hospitals Plymouth (UHP) NHS Trust 365 days a year, there’s a team small in number yet dynamic and consistently compassionate in the face of pressure, who swiftly stepped up to help strengthen the hospital’s emergency response when the pandemic hit hard earlier this year.

Now, with the number of COVID-19 patients on the rise locally as well as nationally, our hospital team is again giving its support to NHS colleagues, fortifying the frontline so that patients who are dying from complications of the virus receive the compassionate end of life care they need. As part of one big team at the hospital, our hospice staff are not only lending their expertise on the COVID red wards though – just as before, they’re pulling out all the stops to continue their usual work as well, ensuring that right across the hospital patients whose time is running short are as comfortable and at ease as possible.

Explaining how St Luke’s stepped up to help the hospital respond in the early months of the pandemic – and how it feels to be back supporting NHS colleagues dealing with the challenge of another influx of COVID-19 patients – St Luke’s nurse Julie Ayers said:

“Ordinarily, our team is involved in looking after up to 40 hospital patients at any one time, ensuring they receive the highest calibre care and giving emotional support to their families, too. While we are a small team, we are also flexible so when the gravity of the COVID-19 situation brought huge extra pressure to bear on the hospital, we were able to adapt quickly as part of its response to dealing with the emergency.

“It was about more than just providing specialist care and advice for patients with complex symptoms caused by the virus. We were also there supporting hospital staff who suddenly needed to have difficult but necessary conversations with patients’ families. This was especially hard for colleagues who’d never done it before, in some cases because they’d only very recently qualified as doctors and nurses. We drew on our experience to build their confidence and help them do this with kindness and sensitivity while not shying away from clarity because it’s so important to be open and honest with families in these situations.

“In addition, when inpatient and outpatient cancer treatment temporarily transferred to nearby Nuffield Hospital, we were there to provide specialist training for staff at the facility, many of whom were completely unused to looking after people with terminal illness because that’s not what their usual work involves. We continued to provide support for them until cancer care returned to UHP NHS Trust in August.”

“When I look back at that time now, which felt so relentless, I also recall how daunting it was, especially in those first few weeks because it was such an unprecedented time and none of us knew what to expect. I felt really anxious at first, especially with so many news reports about healthcare workers dying from COVID-19, but I think those fears are only natural.

“What’s really helped  – and what’s really stood out to me – is the level of support we’ve given each other. It’s been phenomenal, not just in our tightknit St Luke’s team but more widely across the whole hospital. We are really there for each other because we all recognise the importance of what do and at the same time empathise because we’re all juggling our work with the personal challenges everyone is experiencing due to the pandemic.

“We had to adapt the way we worked really quickly because things were changing not just daily but sometimes by the hour. We just got on with it though because that’s what we do. I’ve worked in palliative and end of life care for most of the past 20 years and have been back with the St Luke’s team for the past three – it’s simply where I feel I belong.”

Julie, who is married with two teenage daughters living at home, appreciates the unswerving support her family has given her as she’s continued to deliver vital care for patients week after week.

This time around, she feels she and the team are much better placed to meet the challenges of working on the frontline of hospital care, looking after patients who include those struggling with symptoms of COVID-19.

She said: “I think because of what we’ve already weathered, we know a lot more about what to expect as COVID cases continue to rise, though of course we can never get complacent.

“I still feel some trepidation – my biggest fear would be to have the virus, be symptomless and pass it on to one of my family – but with all the strict infection control measures in place, the hospital does feel a safe place to work.”

“I really want to emphasise the safety aspect because the rising number of deaths in the community points to people with terminal illness putting off hospital treatment because they’re afraid. I want to say to them, please keep your appointments. Or if you’re worried something might be wrong, don’t put off contacting your GP. It’s so important that people don’t delay what could turn out to be life-saving treatment.”

“Despite all the challenges and the emotional toll my work can take, I still love what I do. Although my role can be very sad at times, it is nevertheless really rewarding as I know I make such a difference to people’s lives.”

Taking up a post at St Luke’s is always going to be more than ‘just’ starting a new job.

What our charity does for patients and their families, uplifting them at a very challenging time, means that whether you have direct contact with them or are in a more behind-the-scenes role, there’s the reward of knowing you’re part of a very special team making a vital difference in your community. But it goes beyond that, too, because we invest in our staff and, as part of a package that also includes a generous annual leave allowance, pension and healthcare scheme, we offer them development opportunities as well

When Rachel Vosper was working as a Healthcare Assistant (HCA) at Turnchapel, where we look after our most vulnerable patients, she enjoyed learning all about the practical needs of people in our care, all the while nurturing her long-held dream of becoming a nurse. Now – thanks to an exciting opportunity for her to take a big step towards that goal by training as our first Nursing Associate – she’s feeling more fulfilled than ever.

Rachel said: “Working as an HCA was fantastic, but the longing to be a nurse never left me. It felt quite disheartening at times, really wanting to learn more about the clinical care patients need but feeling held back because I couldn’t afford to study for the degree you need to enter nursing. So I was over the moon when I found out about the opportunity to train as a Nursing Associate at St Luke’s. I’d never even heard the job title before and couldn’t wait to know more!”

The University of Plymouth’s Pre-registration Nursing Associate programme is an apprenticeship open to both new and existing healthcare staff, enabling them to study for a fully funded foundation degree and obtain a professional qualification and registration with the Nursing & Midwifery Council. Once qualified, Nursing Associates can work across a wide range of healthcare settings and clinical areas, including acute or community hospitals, community nursing teams, GP practices and hospices.

Rachel said: “As a mum of two, being able to earn while I learn is key for me. Training as a Nursing Associate at St Luke’s means I can work towards my qualification while being paid a salary, and the structure of working four days a week and studying at the Uni on the other day means I still get to enjoy time with my family on my days off. It’s working out really well – I always want to learn more and keep challenging myself, and being at St Luke’s I know I’m learning from the best.

“What helps, too, is the great support I get from colleagues, from our doctors, nurses and HCAs to the Education and Social Care teams. It isn’t just about the clinical skills I’m gaining – like taking blood, catheterisation of patients and giving them their medication – it’s learning more about how to have those sensitive conversations with families and giving the emotional support patients and their loved ones need.”

As part of their training, Rachel and her fellow University students spend time reflecting on their practice so that they continue to improve. She said: “It gives me the chance to really absorb new experiences and help me do my best – I want to feel I’m doing everything I possibly can to make sure patients receive excellent care.”

While the pandemic means that Rachel’s study has had to take place online in recent months, and that certain placements have been cancelled, she has benefited from spending time with district nurses, learning about their role, as well as from a placement at a local GP surgery.

She said: “All this means I’m getting a well-rounded experience that’s giving me greater understanding of other healthcare roles and how they work together.

“I’m excited about the future, especially working more closely with our doctors and nurses and having my own patients to look after. I hope I can help those who may take up the opportunity to train in the future. I’d really like to support them in achieving their goals, too.”

With an eye on the horizon, Rachel knows that qualifying as a Nursing Associate means she can, when she’s ready, get a faster track to achieving her ambition of becoming a nurse by entering direct to the second year of degree study at the University.

Nicola Pereira, Head of Inpatient Nursing Services at St Luke’s, said: “As an HCA, Rachel was already an asset to St Luke’s and now she’s a trailblazer as she works towards becoming our first qualified Nursing Associate. It is always rewarding seeing members of the team develop and fulfil their potential, so it’s brilliant seeing her go from strength to strength.”

For more on working with St Luke’s – and details of our current vacancies – click here.

“When I start my shift after two days off and realise all my patients’ names have already gone from our whiteboard, that’s when it really hits home how much more quickly people are dying now because of the pandemic. It’s utterly heart-breaking.”

With the country entering its second national lockdown this week, a healthcare professional from St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, who knows first hand the impact the pandemic is having on not just lives but deaths too, has shared how it feels to be part of the local charity’s dedicated workforce carrying out their vital service for terminally ill patients and their families while cases of the virus continue to rise.

As a Healthcare Assistant with the Urgent Care Service run by St Luke’s in partnership with Marie Curie, Selina Rogers is used to dealing with death. She and her colleagues choose to work in the challenging environment of hospice care because they understand the difference their specialist skills, and their kindness and sensitivity, make to terminally ill people at the end of their lives. What has changed over recent months, though – and increased the emotional toll on this resilient team – is the speed at which their patients are dying.

Between them, Selina and the rest of the team, which as well as her fellow healthcare assistants includes doctors, nurses and bereavement support workers, cover Plymouth and surrounding areas and are out on the road seven days a week looking after patients at home during a period of change in their condition or a crisis. It is what they do to make the community a kinder place for people who are dying and for the loved ones around them. It also reduces unnecessary admissions to hospital, relieving pressure on the NHS.

This provision from St Luke’s, which is so essential to making their patients more comfortable – managing their symptoms and putting them and their loved ones as at ease as possible – is given by the charity at no cost to those who receive its personalised care and support. The Urgent Care team is continuing to meet the increasing demand for specialist end of life care at home, despite St Luke’s experiencing loss of income with its charity shops being forced into closure for much of this year and its popular mass participation events, such as Midnight Walk and Men’s Day Out, postponed until safer times, in accordance with government advice.

Selina said: “We see a lot of death in what we do, but during this last six to seven months there’s been more than ever. I don’t mean people who’ve died from COVID-19 but those with conditions such as cancer, motor neurone disease and heart failure.

“We can lose four patients just in one day – that’s around what we’d usually expect in a week. We can finish a shift and have our two days off, come back to work and see patients’ names that are all new because those we’d looked after on our previous shift have already died. I find that incredibly tough.

Explaining more, Selina said:  “I think it’s because we’re getting our referrals in later and people are dying a lot sooner. It’s almost like crisis intervention – in many cases, we’re going in the last 24 – 48 hours of their life and making sure they’re comfortable.

“We think it’s in part because many people haven’t been going for routine appointments at hospitals either because they’re scared it’s not safe during the pandemic or because they’ve not wanted the NHS to feel any more stretched than it already is.

“This time next year we’re likely to see even more deaths because people aren’t having the treatment they need. That’s why I want to echo what the NHS is telling everyone, reminding people just how important it is for them to keep their appointments, and if they feel unwell or notice anything out of the ordinary in terms of their health, to talk to their GP.”

As she and her colleagues brace themselves for working throughout another lockdown to reach the many people who need their compassionate care at home in their last days of life, Selina said: “It can feel really challenging looking after people who are so poorly, but we never shy away from it and the pandemic has not – and will not – change that.

“It is very special to be almost be part of a patient’s family during such a vulnerable time. I feel privileged that in my role I can give them not only practical support but be a reassuring presence that reminds they don’t have to go through it alone.

“Another important part of what we do is preparing them for what’s going to happen, getting the balance right between being gentle but not sugar-coating the truth because it’s crucial to be honest. These are not easy conversations to have but in my experience families appreciate that openness and feel relief that they can share whatever they’re feeling with us.

“What I do miss since the pandemic started though, is being able to give them a hug when they need it. We can’t because we all have to respect the safety measures that help keep everyone safe from the virus.

“Just this week, I was with a lady who sadly died while our team was there. Her husband was heartbroken yet I couldn’t put my arm around him the way I usually would – it’s instinctive when someone desperately needs that comfort and it feels really alien and frustrating not to. I just rested my hand on his shoulder and hoped he could see in my eyes how much I care because of course the masks we wear as part of our PPE make it harder for people to read our expressions.”

“What helps me at those times is feeling I’ve done all I can to make such a difficult time that little bit easier for families and knowing St Luke’s bereavement team will be there to support them as they grieve, the comfort blanket they need as they gradually come to terms with their loss.

“Going into this second lockdown is tough on everyone and particularly challenging for people affected by terminal illness because they might be feeling more isolated or anxious. I want to reassure our patients, their carers and their families that St Luke’s will continue to be there for them.

“I also want to thank everyone who supports our charity because it makes such a difference. I’ve been so touched by the way the community has kept us close to their hearts despite the pressures they themselves are facing.

“There doesn’t seem to be any slowing in the higher number of deaths at home and our service will be needed more than ever in the months ahead, so everyone’s kind words and thoughtful gestures really help all of us at St Luke’s dig that little bit deeper to keep going for our patients, whatever this pandemic throws at us.”

The Urgent Care Service is a partnership between charities St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth and Marie Curie.

Working closely with district nurses, GPs and health and social care agencies, the team ensures high-quality, co-ordinated and compassionate care and support for terminally ill patients who need a high level of specialised care at end of life and want to be looked after at home.

The service reaches across Plymouth and into the surrounding areas of South West Devon, including Salcombe, Kingsbridge, Ivybridge, Tavistock and the Moors.

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.

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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 are always interested to hear from 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

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.”