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.

With just a month as Manager of our Modbury charity shop under her belt before lockdown forced the temporary closure of all St Luke’s stores, new recruit Nesha Clemens is finding that redeployment to the reception team at Turnchapel is giving her valuable insight into the bespoke end of life care our retail income supports.

Prior to joining us in February, Nesha, who is 26 and grew up in Plymouth, had already packed plenty into her years, from building up a loyal clientele as a hairdresser and renovating houses to working on the Gold Coast of Australia for a year, as well as travelling across four states in a campervan.

However, it was experience of working in retail for the British Red Cross before she went to Australia that first gave Nesha a taste for the charity sector.

She said: “Before travelling, I combined hairdressing and bar work with a casual position assisting in the Red Cross charity shops in Plymouth. I learned a lot from that hands-on experience and also from talking to my mum, who managed the shops.

“Then, after returning home, I worked for the Red Cross again, eventually securing the job as Manager of the Newquay shop. This was where I really earned my stripes in charity retail, taking it from one of the worst performing Red Cross shops in the country to one of the top three of its most successful stores.

“This was down to lots of hard work by me and a great team of existing and new volunteers. I overhauled the look of the shop to make it more ‘Newquay style’ and built closer links with the community to make the store part of the fabric of local life. As well as choosing the right stock and selling it for a good price, I ran raffles to gain further engagement and attract more income.

“I found it really rewarding seeing the shop go from strength to strength, but it became more and more difficult to achieve a healthy work-life balance given the long daily commute between Plymouth and Newquay, plus the fact that my remit also included overseeing four other Red Cross shops in Cornwall.

“It was while looking for the right opportunity closer to home that I heard about the job managing the St Luke’s charity shop in Modbury, and I was delighted to be appointed. Of course, there wasn’t much time to settle in before lockdown was announced, but I was already enjoying it and contributing ideas about the renovation work that will help make better use of the relatively small space there, such as clever storage. I also feel it suits me better to be part of local charity rather than national one, which can sometimes feel rather corporate.

“In many ways, I’m itching to be back in the shop, working with the volunteers and meeting customers, but being redeployed to Turnchapel until more ‘normal’ life resumes is time really well spent. Chatting with the nurses and other staff, it’s easy to see why St Luke’s is so well loved and respected by the community.

“Everything is done with a smile and so much kindness, and nothing is too much trouble to help the patients feel at ease. Contrary to what people who’ve never been to Turnchapel might think, it’s a happy place – though, of course, the circumstances of patients and their families are sad, and even more difficult at the moment, given the pandemic.

“Answering the phones and meeting relatives whose loved one is close to death has

really opened my eyes to how vital hospice care is and the difference it makes. I feel privileged to have this opportunity, and everything I’m learning about St Luke’s care is giving me even more motivation to do my utmost to ensure the Modbury shop thrives. I know every penny it raises is needed more than ever before.”

Shops currently open
Tuesday to Saturday | 9.30am to 4.30pm

Plymouth City Centre Drake
Plymouth City Centre Pop-up shop (former Toys R Us)
Plympton, Huxley Close (near Chaplins)
Plymstock, Sugar Mill
Launceston
Tavistock

Opening Tuesday 4 August
Saltash

Opening Tuesday 11 August
Plymstock
Estover
Ivybridge
Southway
Torpoint

Opening Tuesday 18 August
Yealmpton
Plympton Ridgeway
Barbican Shabby Chic

Opening Tuesday 25 August
Modbury

All other St Luke’s charity shops remain temporarily closed.

So overwhelming is the kindness of St Luke’s supporters who’ve been donating tonnes of items to our re-opened charity shops, we’ve had to temporarily press pause on our acceptance of more donations!

Don’t worry, we’re working hard to remedy this but, for now, we’d really appreciate your patience in holding on to your unwanted furniture, clothes and bric-a-brac while we safely sort through the tonnes we’ve already received.

Our donation point at the distribution centre in Plympton is temporarily unavailable. Our free furniture collection service has opened again for select collections, visit our webpage to see if you are eligible.

 

BLOG | 8 June 2020

So overwhelming is the kindness of St Luke’s supporters who’ve been donating tonnes of items to our re-opened charity shop at Western Approach, we’ve had to temporarily press pause on our acceptance of more donations!

Don’t worry, we’re working hard to remedy this but, for now, we’d really appreciate your patience in holding on to your unwanted furniture, clothes and bric-a-brac while we safely sort through the tonnes we’ve already received.

Though it’s only a fortnight since our doors re-opened, thousands of pre-loved goods have already filled our huge 8,000sq ft storage space to capacity, so please bear with us while we process them all in accordance with the government safety guidelines, which include us quarantining each item for 72 hours.

We’ll let you know as soon as we can safely re-open our ‘drive in and donate’ self-service facility at the rear of the store. In the meantime, please keep shopping with us. Thanks to our generous supporters, there are more bargains than ever to be snapped up!

Our city-centre pop-up shop at the former Toys R Us site and City Centre Drake shop in Plymouth are still open Tuesday to Saturday 9.30am to 4.30pm for shopping only. Our donation point at the distribution centre in Plympton is temporarily unavailable. But our free furniture collection service has opened again for select collections, call us on 01752 964455 to see if you are eligible.

Shop with us

We have good news for the many kind-hearted supporters who, in ‘normal times’, demonstrate their love for St Luke’s by donating to – and shopping at – our charity shops across Plymouth and surrounding areas. After the weeks you’ve spent patiently waiting for our stores to re-open safely, we’re delighted to let you know that this carefully planned, phased process has begun… gradually!

Following detailed preparations to ensure we adhere to official health and safety guidance relating to retail outlets, we have re-opened city-centre pop-up shop at the former Toys R Us site and City Centre Drake shop in Plymouth (open Tuesday to Saturday 9.30am to 4.30pm).

We recognise that our supporters living some distance from these locations, including more in rural areas, may feel frustrated that their local St Luke’s charity shop isn’t re-opening just yet, but please be assured that we are working hard behind the scenes to ensure the process we follow keeps everyone safe, so please continue to be patient and we will update you as soon as we can.

While much within our shops will be familiar, including good-quality pre-loved furniture, brand new mattresses, clothing along with crockery, books and CD’s.

Naturally, our shops will include all the safety measures you would expect during this pandemic, many of which you will be familiar with if you have been shopping at supermarkets in recent weeks: hand-sanitising facilities, aisle markings to ensure social distancing, limited numbers of people admitted at any one time, and contactless payments preferred, for example. In addition, for the time being we are requesting that you do not try on clothes or handle items you do not wish to buy.

For your peace of mind, be assured to guard against possible spreading of infection, all donated goods will be stored on site for 72 hours before we put them on sale.

With the current crisis meaning that sadly, more people are dying – and often more quickly – we’re extending the reach of our bereavement support service to anyone who has lost a loved one to COVID-19 or is anticipating this heartbreak.

As part of our city’s response to help individuals and families affected by loss due to the pandemic – and working in partnership with University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, Plymouth City Council, Livewell Southwest and our networks of Compassionate Friends – our charity has stepped up to co-ordinate support for both pre and post bereavement in Plymouth and surrounding areas.

We know how hard it is when someone close to you dies. We also know that COVID-19 has made loss even more complex for so many people. You might not have been able to visit your loved one in a care home or hospital, or perhaps you’ve had to make extraordinarily tough decisions on who could attend the funeral.

If you need help, there’s no need to wait – you don’t need a referral. Just pick up the phone and call our friendly, experienced and sensitive team on 01752 964200. Whatever you’re feeling, we will listen and support you. You are not alone.

We’re also here for health and social care teams, recognising the toll the pandemic is taking on those working in hospitals and care homes. You’ve been getting on, carrying on and keeping on – we’ll give you the space and support you need to reflect, de-brief, release some emotion and signpost you to the most appropriate support. After all, you’re humans, too.

Talented local Plymouth band SuperXLs have been supporting St Luke’s for the past 3 years, by showcasing their musical tribute to the late, great, David Bowie every January. To date the band has raised almost £2000 from those shows alone. The band is made up of five great local fundraising heroes called Ben, Mark, Leo, Jon and Phin.

On the 3 May, the SuperXLs premiered their isolation video to thank frontline workers fighting covid-19. The song titled ‘Heroes for Heroes’ has raised just under £2000 for St Luke’s, ensuring local families get the care and support that they need at end of life.

Mark Trewin from SuperXLs said, “We had to do something as a tribute to all the frontline heroes working so hard in our community during these challenging times” Mark continued “St Luke’s was the obvious choice to raise money for. One of the band members has a family member being currently cared for by the hospice, so it has a personal connection too and is even more meaningful to gift our time and raise much needed funds.”

The band are urging people to watch their video on YouTube and make a donation of support.

Penny Hannah, Head of Fundraising at St Luke’s, said “The video is best enjoyed with a drink in hand and the sound up loud, the emotional introduction had me and my family in tears, so much passion shared by the band. The words of the song are very powerful and thought provoking, and the images shared of our incredible nurses. I know the challenges our nurses and doctors are faced in these unprecedented times to care for over 300 families in and around our City, it really is heart touching.

“I would like to thank the band for their support and everyone who has donated to the JustGiving page and throughout the pandemic. We really need your support and we are so very grateful, thank you for caring.”

In the past few months, death has become a greater part of public life, with so many families sadly losing loved ones and with the media focus firmly on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But are we getting better at talking more openly about the ‘taboo’ subject of death or do we still hold back because although we’re comfortable with it, we fear others aren’t?

We’re firmly behind the national annual Dying Matters Awareness Week campaign (11 – 17 May) to encourage more honest talk about death, dying and grief, recognising that this helps those affected feel listened to and understood.

To mark this year’s campaign – Dying to be Heard – national charity Hospice UK has revealed new findings from Savanta ComRes that show that 72% of those bereaved in the last five years would rather friends and colleagues said the wrong thing than nothing at all, and 62% say that being happy to listen was one of the top three most useful things someone did after they were bereaved.

Meanwhile, a recent local survey carried out on behalf of St Luke’s, found that just 24% of those polled said they felt ‘very comfortable’ talking about death.

With many people facing the unexpected death of loved ones due to COVID-19, Hospice UK is calling for people to take courage and speak to people about death and bereavement to support those in our society who are dying or grieving.

Tracey Bleakley, CEO of Hospice UK, said “What these findings show is just how important it is for us all to talk about death and grief, particularly when as a nation we are facing higher numbers of unexpected deaths as a result of COVID-19. These issues sadly have a taboo about them, which is unhealthy and can leave people suffering in silence. We owe it to each other to take part in these conversations. So many people are dying to be heard, and we all need to listen.”

In an additional new poll from Opinium on the public’s reaction to COVID-19, while 71% of people agree with the lockdown restrictions, nearly half (48%) said that not being able to see someone before they died or attend a funeral would make it harder to accept the reality of the death. This poll also found that 62% said that not being able to see a dying person before they died would cause a lasting sadness, and one in six (59%) said that they would want a celebration of the person’s life after the lockdown is lifted.

In addition, the survey found that more than 11 million people – 1 in 5 UK adults – have put in place advanced care plans (ACPs) in case they fall ill because of COVID-19, or plan to do so.

As part of our service, we encourage people to create an ACP, a personal statement of wishes that can ensure – as far as is practically possible – that their wishes are respected and acted upon should they be too ill to speak up for themselves in their last days. Having an ACP can bring increased peace of mind not just for the person concerned but for the loved ones around them, too, making a very stressful time that little bit easier.

We also provide emotional, practical and spiritual support for those whose loved one had links to our service before they died.

Jutta Widlake, Head of Social Care at St Luke’s, said: “As a society, we don’t discuss death openly, and because people are living longer most of us don’t experience the loss of someone close to us until we’re well into midlife. Death is a normal part of life though, and we shouldn’t feel held back from talking about it because we fear others might feel uncomfortable if we do.

“As the national survey results show, silence isn’t always golden because most bereaved people welcome friends’ and colleagues’ efforts to help, even if those people are afraid of saying the wrong thing. So, taking that step to express your support – and being there to listen – are among the most important things you can do.”

You can pledge to take part in a conversation about dying, death or grief, either initiating it or taking part if someone else starts it. An online pledge wall and other ways for people to share their pledges can be found here.

For more information www.dyingmatters.org or www.stlukes-hospice.org.uk/acp

This Thursday night, we’ll be clapping for these heroes in helmets!

A huge shout out to all the amazing volunteers behind South West Blood Bikes, a local charity which literally goes the extra mile delivering blood samples between organisations including UHP NHS Trust and St Luke’s, saving our own precious resources.

More than that, these big-hearted bikers who give their time for free have really stepped up during the current crisis, picking up prescriptions from pharmacies and delivering them to people isolating at home.

From one charity to another, we want to say we couldn’t be more grateful for the vital service they provide. When ‘normal’ life resumes, you’ll see them fundraising at all sorts of public events, so please dig deep to show your support!

Scott Medical College

Students of Scott Medical and Healthcare College are not only proving they’re as well motivated as ever despite lockdown, learning from home via lessons online, they’ve shown that when it comes to kindness they’re also top of the form, fundraising for local hospice care.

The specialist mainstream school for 13 to 19 year-olds, where students study towards careers in medicine and healthcare, chose to get behind our charity, recognising that now more than ever our charity needs support from the community to continue providing our vital service for local families. So, ditching their usual lockdown attire of casualwear, students from every year group dressed in their school uniforms for a ‘reverse mufti day’, raising £250 for St Luke’s in the process.

Being a partner of our Compassionate Schools initiative, which helps school staff better support students who are facing bereavement or have already lost someone close to them, the College was so determined to show its support that even the teachers dressed in school uniform to enter into the spirit of the occasion.

But that’s not all because during one online lesson, students received a special surprise when St Luke’s healthcare assistant Samm and nurse Theresa ‘gatecrashed’ to thank them for their support and take part in an online question and answer session, providing an insight into their work looking after terminally ill people who are dying. As part of the session, our specialist unit carers explained how they are coping with the changes brought about by the COVID-19.

St Luke’s healthcare assistant Samm said: “We are used to being there for our patients at a very difficult time so we are resilient, but it is hard not being able to hug them or hold their hand because it is second nature to us to show them that compassion. We still provide lots of reassurance for them though, and we’re doing lots to help them keep in touch with their families, recognising how very hard it is for them not to be together at this time.”

Headteacher of Scott Medical and Healthcare College Martyn Cox said: “As a specialist school, we place great emphasis on equipping our students with the vocational skills they need for exciting careers in healthcare, so it was hugely valuable to them to hear from the St Luke’s nurses about the challenges – and rewards – of working in hospice care.“I’m very proud of the way our students and staff embraced the idea of the reverse mufti day to show their support for the service St Luke’s provides, which we should never take for granted.”

Penny Hannah, Head of Fundraising at St Luke’s, said: “It’s heart-warming that these students preparing for their careers and adult lives have made such an effort to show people who are at the end of their lives that they haven’t been forgotten. We’re very grateful for their fantastic fundraising, which will help us be there for more local families who need us.”

Learn more about becoming a compassionate school to better support bereaved students.