With people living longer and developing more complex conditions, having GPs who understand end of life care, and do not shy away from difficult but necessary conversations with patients about death and dying, is more important than ever.

Given this, you may be surprised to hear that it is not mandatory for GPs to gain experience within hospice care as part of their training. Rather, it is an option they can select as one of the three rotations they are required to complete on their way to becoming qualified.

Recently, we spoke to Dr Malik Dinata, a trainee GP who has chosen to spend four months on rotation with St Luke’s, to see our service through his eyes and find out how his experience with us will help to prepare him for his career in general practice.

Based within our multidisciplinary clinical team at Turnchapel, Dr Malik has been particularly struck that the time he spends with patients on the ward is unhurried. This means he is able to focus on more than their physical symptoms, getting to know them and their history and finding out about their hopes, expectations and concerns – something that would not be possible within the very pressured environment of acute care.

Dr Malik said: “It is very precious to be able to work with St Luke’s. I get to sit with my patient and practice medicine as it is supposed to be.”

Dealing with death, dying and someone’s last days of life can be one of the most stressful parts of a doctor’s role, and Dr Malik credits the support he receives from his supervisor,

St Luke’s Lead Consultant Dr Jeff Stephenson, and other colleagues, for ensuring he feels ‘safe and comforted’ in a setting many would find very challenging.

He said: “We always touch base before I see a patient so that we can discuss the approach that’s most appropriate for them, and then afterwards colleagues check in with me to ask how it went and how the patient responded.”

On average, a GP surgery has 2,000 patients, with around 20 of them – one per cent – living with terminal illness. To help them be as comfortable and as at ease as possible as they approach the end of their lives, they need the specialist care and support of hospices like St Luke’s, where the help they receive is holistic and tailored specifically to them.

Trainee GPs like Dr Malik, who spend time gaining valuable experience in a hospice setting, are not only more equipped to diagnose accurately and prescribe accordingly, they are more confident having the sensitive yet necessary open conversations about death and dying that help their patient fulfil their wishes about their last months, weeks and days of life.

Dr Jeff said: “Being on rotation with us is a wonderful opportunity for future GPs to gain intensive exposure to looking after people who are terminally ill.

“Importantly, while they’re with us, trainees also learn when to admit a patient to hospital and when it’s more appropriate for them to receive care at home, which is key to avoiding unnecessary admissions.”

Listening to Dr Malik, it is clear that our organisation has made a positive and lasting impression on him that he will carry forward into practice.

He said: “St Luke’s is such a unique environment where people, including the patients themselves, learn to become more accepting of their mortality.

“It’s so important for GPs to know how things should be done. At St Luke’s I’ve seen the ‘gold standard’ and it will benefit my future practice – it will be my point of reference and remind me what I need to do for my patients.

“You don’t gain this type of valuable experience from reading about it in textbooks or hearing about it in lectures. You get it from practice at St Luke’s.”

With this week, being not just the start of the new year but a whole new decade, many will be looking to set goals for themselves or even take on an exciting challenge for 2020 – or beyond!

What better way to push yourself out of your comfort zone than by getting involved in a challenging and exciting event that also benefits your community? We are urging you to put your best foot forward, take a leap or even scale the world’s longest manmade structure to raise funds that ensures care in our community

Today, we have launched not just one but two of our most popular flagship events, Men’s Day Out and Midnight Walk, giving people the chance to celebrate the lives of their lost loved ones while raising much-needed income that helps families make memories together when time is running short.

Men’s Day Out, is loved for the rugby, banter and camaraderie and the unity of walking together raises thousands for St Luke’s. Officially, the region’s biggest men-only sponsored event for charity is back this Saturday 28 March. The event, which is Powered by IU Energy, will see guys gather for a day to remember, striding the city streets before they return to Plymouth Albion RFC for a well-earned pasty and pint and the not-be-missed clash between the home team and their Richmond rivals.

Meanwhile, St Luke’s is inviting ladies to turn Plymouth pink on Saturday 11 July, when its popular Midnight Walk returns. This year, the much-anticipated event, which is sponsored by Nash & Co Solicitors, includes a new challenge – 20 miles for 2020 commencing at 20:20 hrs – in addition to the new 5 and 10-mile routes. That’s not all that’s new, because this year walkers will set off from Home Park (Plymouth Argyle FC) and all will be wearing Midnight Walk’s signature bright pink t-shirts. As always, it promises to be a great night out with the girls, with many walking in memory of loved ones.

Nina Wearne, Community and Events Fundraising Manager at St Luke’s, said: “Whether you take part in Men’s Day Out or Midnight Walk as a personal challenge or to celebrate the life of someone special, please know that St Luke’s could not do what they do without the support from you, our kind-hearted community. Perhaps this is your first time, or maybe it’s an event you enjoy year after year; these events are a fantastic way to have loads of fun whilst making a vital difference for local families.”

For those who’d prefer to take the plunge to show their support for St Luke’s, there are opportunities to take part in an exhilarating skydive on Saturday 21 March sponsored by BT Local Business. The 15,000ft leap is free for those who raise a minimum of £395 in sponsorship.

Looking further ahead – a once-in-a-lifetime challenge – The Great Wall of China Trek is taking place from 6 to 14 November 2021, offering participants an unforgettable adventure. Those who are interested are invited to attend an information evening on Tuesday 11 February 2020 to find out more but don’t hold back as registration is already open.

Nina Wearne said: “As well as being a mesmerising experience hiking along one of the most famous structures in the world, this is an opportunity to soak up China’s vast variations in landscape, culture, wildlife and heritage – not to mention cuisine! It’s a fantastic way to do something different and also make a difference.”

Details of these and all St Luke’s flagship fundraising events are available here.

Martin York, who was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer at the age of 55, has spoken out to urge men to be vigilant in checking for symptoms of the disease and not let embarrassment keep them from getting the simple check-ups that could save their lives. He wants to leave a legacy to the men of the city to help protect their health.

With prostate cancer affecting 1 in 8 men, Martin is passionate about spreading the message that, while the disease tends to occur in those aged over 65, younger men are also at risk and that getting diagnosed early can improve the prognosis for those who have the condition.

Martin said, “I was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 2017, and the disease had been doing its worst inside my body for three to four years so I went straight onto chemotherapy. It was very debilitating and I spent most of the next five months in bed.”

A keen Plymouth Argyle FC supporter, Martin was keen to give something back to the club and at their invitation spoke to the players in the dressing room to share his story and help raise awareness of prostate cancer and its symptoms.

He said: “Men don’t like talking about anything below their belts, which is ridiculous. It’s too late for me, but it’s not too late for others. If you’re in any doubt at all, see your GP for a simple check-up.”

Martin, who has been married to Penny for 24 years, came into the care of St Luke’s expert team when he needed help to control his pain and was admitted to the our specialist unit at Turnchapel.

Just as passionate about debunking unhelpful myths around hospice care as he is about urging men to prioritise their health, he said: “I went in not knowing what it would be like, but I was very pleasantly surprised how friendly, light and airy the unit was. It was like a five-star hotel.”

St Luke’s specialist care and support for Martin did not stop when he made the decision to be discharged home. Thanks to the charity’s multidisciplinary At Home team, which looks after half of all the patients St Luke’s sees across Plymouth, South West Devon and East Cornwall, everything was in place to make his transition from the unit as smooth as possible.

Penny said: “A lot of people think that when you go into the hospice building, you’re never coming out again. This couldn’t have been further from the truth for Martin, and it was his choice to come home. The day he returned was remarkable, with all the kit already in place, thanks to St Luke’s occupational therapist Shaen. He made sure Martin had everything that was needed, from easy chairs and hoists to a special bed.

“Martin is a very special man, I will always be grateful to St Luke’s for this gift they’ve given us – Martin at home where he belongs so we can have this precious time together knowing that if we need it, help is just a phone call away. The kindness and sensitivity of the team is making such a difference to us at a really difficult time.

“I am incredibly proud of Martin and want to echo his words to other men: If you have even the slightest concern that something is wrong ‘downstairs’, go straight to see your GP. It could save your life.”

For ‘warm, funny and fearless’ Lynne Roper of Mary Tavy, a paramedic who was passionate about outdoor swimming, ‘passing it down the line’ didn’t need to end at her death. “People can swim and take me with them,” she said.

Lynne did not mean this literally. Living with a brain tumour, she knew her condition was terminal, but she was determined to see the adventures she recorded about her sixty-plus wild swims published to inspire others to swim wild, ‘read water’ and take educated risks as she did.

St Luke’s cared for Lynne at Turnchapel before sadly, she passed away in 2016, and it was while she was in our care she met writer Tanya Shadrick, who she entrusted with her diaries for posthumous publication.

Thanks to Tanya’s tireless editing, the diaries became the book Lynne had envisioned, ‘Wild Woman Swimming – a Journal of Westcountry Waters’. Not only was it published in 2018, following consultation with Lynne’s parents, Mike and Jenny Roper, this year the book went on to be longlisted for the prestigious Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing.

In keeping with Lynne’s wishes, profits from the sale of the book are benefiting St Luke’s, and recently Mike and Jenny, together with Lynne’s brother Dave and her friend Sophie Pierce – who wrote the introduction to the book – visited Turchapel to present our Community Fundraiser Pete Ward with a cheque for £1,000.

Mike and Jenny said: “We will be forever grateful to St Luke’s and all the doctors and nurses for the tremendous, loving care our daughter received in the last six weeks of her life.”

Peter said: “St Luke’s was privileged to care for Lynne in the last weeks of her life, and we are so grateful to her parents for this generous donation that will make a difference to more families who need our help during a very challenging time.”

Wild Woman Swimming’, a ‘book for outdoor swimmers, nature lovers and all who prize the wild and free’, is published by The Selkie Press.

Across Plymouth, South West Devon and East Cornwall, our network of charity shops is supported by a legion of customers snapping up bargains, generating vital income to support our service. But did you know that while many of the items they buy have been donated directly to the shops by our kind-hearted community, a large proportion of stock comes via the hive of activity that is our Distribution Centre at Plympton?

This centralised support centre run by an industrious team of staff and volunteers is crucial to the smooth-running of St Luke’s retail operation, which – as well as 33 charity shops – includes our eBay and Amazon stores that enable us to sell far beyond our surrounding area. Mark Kendall, Logistics and Warehouse Manager, explains what it takes to deliver a distribution service that ensures our customers are never short of quality and choice.

Mark said: “While some of St Luke’s shops are ‘self-sufficient’, receiving a steady stream of goods directly from supporters, the Distribution Centre provides an alternative drop-off point. It’s where our team sifts through thousands of donated items and decides which shops to send them to.

“These not random decisions though – they’re informed by regular information we receive from Area Managers John Saunders and Kerry Hearn and shop managers, who have expert knowledge of what sells best at each store. They know that what’s popular at Modbury, for example, doesn’t necessarily fly off the shelves in Plymouth city centre. We also have portfolios with details of each shop, its location and community demographics, to which the team can refer when they’re sorting donations. This is important because we have a duty to our donors who give us goods, and to our charity itself, to get the best possible price.

“Retail presence online is also key to generating funds, and our charity uses eBay and Amazon to reach a much wider audience, including overseas, to sell donated items that are rare or collectable, such as vintage toys and first-edition books. That’s why the Distribution team includes staff and volunteers who are collectors with a trained eye that helps them spot ‘treasure’ likely to attract a higher price online than in our shops.

“Embracing technology has also enhanced our large-item furniture collection service that’s provided seven days a week to ensure our five shops stocking new and second-hand furniture receive a regular supply.

“Thanks to St Luke’s investment, we now have a telemetry system that enables us to be much more efficient. The drivers of our leased vans are equipped with electronic tablets with in-built sat-navs so that the Retail Admin team knows where they are at any given time and can plan the most efficient routes for them, giving the donors they’re collecting items from an estimated time of arrival. This reduces wait times, helping St Luke’s maintain its excellent reputation. I’m proud that other charities are seeing what we do here as the ‘gold standard’ and aiming to follow our example.

“Innovation is also important when it comes to doing our bit for the environment. Donated items that can’t be sold in our shops are recycled wherever possible because they can still bring in valuable income from the companies who pay us for them. In fact, there’s enough to fill the three 3.5-tonne vehicles that collect from us five days a week! Unsellable items are taken off to recycling plants around the world and we aim to be ethical and avoid them ending up in landfill wherever possible.

“The market for recycling is very volatile though – for example, the price we can get for textiles has dropped ten pence per kilo in the last 12 months – so I keep a close eye on which companies pay best and we use them accordingly. It’s all part of maximising income to build resilience for our charity.”

“There’s much more to what we do at the Distribution Centre than most people realise. We regularly welcome volunteer teams from local companies, who really enjoy it for team-building and it’s great for raising awareness of St Luke’s. We also work with the DWP to help people who’ve been out of work for some time gain new skills and build confidence through volunteering, which can help them go on to find paid employment, including – in three recent cases – with St Luke’s.

“Of course, none of what we do would be possible without such a dedicated team of staff and volunteers rolling up their sleeve’s day in, day out – not just getting things done but doing them to such a high standard. I want to say a big thank you to each and every one of them.”

The launch of the city-wide partnership showed how aspiration is being turned into action across Plymouth, benefitting people at end of life.

Back in May 2018, at the Plymouth: a Compassionate City conference hosted by St Luke’s and attended by organisations ranging from schools and places of worship to solicitors and voluntary groups, keynote speaker Professor Allan Kellehear threw down a challenge to those present, saying: “Every day, people die and hearts are broken. Death and dying are more than medical issues and caring for those affected is not just the role of the doctor and the chaplain. End of life care is everyone’s responsibility and we all have a practical role to play.”

This rallying call to build on the good work already happening across Plymouth to make our city a more compassionate place for people at end of life, and those caring for them, was met with overwhelming support. So, nearly 18 months on, at the launch of the End of Life Compassionate City Charter Professor Kellehear urged Plymouth to adopt, it was an opportunity to see how groups and organisations have been working together, turning aspiration into action so that no-one feels left behind.

Having a city-wide end of life network working in partnership with the City Council, as well as other public bodies and local charities, is already beginning to ensure that Plymouth is a city that does not shy away from the ‘taboo’ subjects of death, dying and bereavement but talks openly about them. In fact, Plymouth has the accolade of being recognised at England’s first Compassionate City, but this is just the beginning.

The Compassionate City initiative is being led and co-ordinated by Gail Wilson, Deputy Director of Clinical Services at St Luke’s. Gail said: “Across the city and the wider communities there are many examples of individuals and groups going the extra mile to support people during times of sickness, bereavement and loss, from providing a listening ear to helping with practical things such as walking the dog and collecting shopping.

“I have been amazed by what various organisations and individuals across the city have achieved in the past 18 months, with the support of the compassionate community team at St Luke’s . This is a really a great start but there is much more to do, so I would encourage anybody who wants to be involved to sign up to the network and join us, so together we can create compassionate networks where we live and work so that no-one at end of life or experiencing bereavement and loss feels isolated or alone.”

Steve Statham, Chief Executive of St Luke’s, said: “We have a key role to play in supporting our community and networks in times of crisis and loss. This charter is about how we can work together towards extending the support we give to people at a most difficult time in their life”.

Ruth Harrell, Director of Public Health for Plymouth, said: “By taking a public health approach to end of life care, we can give a voice to all those affected by death, dying, bereavement and loss and work together to create a city that does not shy away from their needs but provides a compassionate collective response.”

Once the last of the turkey sandwiches are eaten and there are only repeats on television, thoughts naturally turn to the year ahead and what’s in store. So, recognising it’s a popular time for making resolutions and seeking a new challenge, we’re set to launch two of the city’s most hotly anticipated fundraising events for 2020, our Men’s Day Out and Midnight Walk, early next year!

Meanwhile, those who want to take on a once-in-a-lifetime challenge further afield and experience an iconic bucket-list destination as they raise money for St Luke’s are signing up to our exciting Great Wall of China Trek taking place 6 – 14 November 2021.

This unforgettable adventure, hiking along one of the most famous structures in the world, is an opportunity to do something different in a culture so unlike our own while raising sponsorship that will make a difference to families much closer to home. See the fundraising pages of our website for more details.

Recently, representatives of St Luke’s clinical and non-clinical teams headed north for the annual Hospice UK Conference, the flagship event that brings together those involved in leading hospice care for adults, young people and children.

At the event in the heart of Liverpool city centre, close to the waterfront of the world-famous Mersey, our team joined hundreds of their peers from hospices up and down the country to hear the latest thinking on the key issues affecting the services we all provide.

With an increasing ageing population and people developing more complex conditions, standing still is not an option for hospices, which was reflected in the title of this year’s conference – Dying for Change.

Steve Statham, Chief Executive of St Luke’s, said: “The theme was not just evolving but revolutionising hospice care to meet the challenges ahead. The conference gave us the opportunity to focus on how we can develop what we do so that it meets the ever-changing and complex needs of a growing and ageing population.

“Sharing ideas and challenging current ways of working means the sector can develop radical new solutions to take hospice care forward. We need to evolve what we already do as well as being revolutionary.”

The conference also highlighted the public support for hospices, with £1.15billion raised: “We owe everything to the generous public. Last year 225,000 people were helped by hospices, up 8% year on year. We have also seen a vast increase in care at home.”

Did you know that nationally, 64% of charity trustees are men and that the average age of a trustee is 61? (Source)

We’re pleased to say our board is more diverse, but we’re striving to ensure it is truly representative of the community St Luke’s serves. That’s why – with it being national Trustees’ Week (4 – 8 November) – we not only want to thank the dedicated men and women who kindly give their skills and time free of charge to govern and guide our charity, but also highlight the opportunity for you to join them.

With the recent launch of our five-year strategy setting out our ambitious goals for the next half-decade, it’s a particularly exciting time to get involved as part of our Board of Trustees.

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 am also the named trustee for both the Launceston and Tavistock retail shops so visit them both periodically, usually buying something on every visit as well!

“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.”

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.

As well as contributing to board meetings, you’ll have the opportunity to use your skills with a sub-committee that makes best use of your specific area of expertise. There’ll also be opportunities to further your experience through hearing from guest speakers and attending national conferences.

If you have a background in community development, including education, or in HR, we’re particularly keen to hear from you.

For more information, please contact Sarah Gore at sgore@stlukes-hospice.org.uk.