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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.

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

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.”

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.”

With an increasing ageing population, hospices like ours can’t reach everyone who needs our care and, for the majority of people it will be their GP, and their teams, that look after them at home at end of life.

When this care is high quality, planned and consistent, patients and their carers benefit, and – thanks to the Daffodil Standards, a free resource introduced earlier this year by the Royal College of General Practitioners and Marie Curie – there’s clear guidance with simple steps that are helping hardworking GPs and their practice teams of nurses, receptionists, healthcare assistants and pharmacists work more closely together and make simple yet effective changes that benefit people whose time is running short.

Experienced GPs and healthcare professionals helped to develop the standards, making sure they fit into the work these teams are already doing, rather than adding to their workload.

Quite simply, the Daffodil Standards help the whole practice team to spot areas for improvement and build on the good care they already provide.

It’s not about ticking boxes, but building the confidence of staff and a compassionate culture, recognising when someone needs support earlier, and sensitively involving patients and their families in their care.

Life is precious, and better support in this area for patients means they can focus on enjoying the time they have left rather than worrying about how to get the care and support they need.

Read more at the standards here.

It’s official – Plymouth has been recognised as the first compassionate city for those at end of life in England!

The accolade for Plymouth is from Public Health Palliative Care International in recognition of the commitment the city has made – and work already under way – towards meeting the objectives of the End of Life Compassionate City Charter. This charter provides a framework outlining social actions relating to death, dying and loss, to be delivered in partnership with communities and individuals for the benefit of everyone in the city.

A compassionate city or community is one that recognises that care for one another at times of crisis and loss is not simply a task solely for health and social services but is everyone’s responsibility. It was in May 2018 that St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth hosted the Plymouth, a Compassionate City: What can you do? conference attended by organisations ranging from schools and places of worship to solicitors, GP surgeries and voluntary groups and Plymouth City Council.

While acknowledging the great progress the city has made in creating compassionate communities for homeless and prison populations, key speaker Professor Allan Kellehear of Bradford University challenged Plymouth to do more, stating that: “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.”

He asked the city to adopt a public health approach to dealing with the lasting impacts of death, dying and loss on individuals in our city and to implement the End of Life Compassionate City Charter. Having a city-wide end of life network working in partnership with the City Council, as well as other public bodies and local charities, will ensure Plymouth is a city that does not shy away from the ‘taboo’ subjects of death, dying and bereavement but talks openly about them.

Across the city, people will be more informed and compassionate towards those facing end of life, or experiencing loss and bereavement. Delegates demonstrated overwhelming support for the charter and the creation of an end of life network for Plymouth and the surrounding communities that is made up of individuals, groups and organisations working together to deliver the charter’s aims.

Councillor Kate Taylor, Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care, said: “The Compassionate City Charter for end of life care gives us all a framework to work towards. The challenges it will help us meet are particularly pertinent to Plymouth as a growing city with a rising number of over-65s. There are increasing demands on health and social care services as care becomes more complex and end of life needs grow compounded by a national funding crisis in social care. Death and dying are more than medical issues and caring for those affected is not just the role of doctors, we all have a role to play. We fully support this approach and will work with our community to turn aspiration into action.”

Ruth Harrell, Director of Public Health for Plymouth, said: “Everyone agrees with the need to have a more compassion approach to those at end of life but how do we make it a reality across our city? 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.”

CEO of St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, Steve Statham added: “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”.

The initiative which is being co-ordinated and led by Gail Wilson, Deputy Director of Clinical Services at St Luke’s, 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 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.”

For more information about the EOL Compassionate City Charter click here.

 

With the help of a generous grant from Hospice UK, St Luke’s has been able to kick-start a compassionate community in Kingsbridge, Devon. The initiative ensures that no matter how far out you live, support will be available for those at end of life and those caring for them.

“I’m thrilled so many people have come forward to support me and my partner. The thought alone has made me feel less isolated and alone.”

As an older person living in a rural town, trying to care for your terminally ill partner while living with your own health conditions, you can easily feel forgotten, especially with no family close by to help. But – thanks to the innovative way St Luke’s is using grant funding awarded by Hospice UK – we’ve been making an important difference in the South Hams town of Kingsbridge, including to the 71-year-old lady quoted above.

Steve Statham, CEO at St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth said: “Thanks to significant funding from Hospice UK, we are breaking down taboos around death and dying and empowering people local people in the rural town of Kingsbridge, Devon to put compassion at the heart of the community so that no-one feels left behind. In a location like this, where it can be more difficult for people to access all kinds of services, including end of life care, local people, voluntary groups and businesses are coming together to show kindness and give practical support to terminally ill people and those caring for them who would otherwise risk isolation and loneliness.

“It isn’t just the financial help from Hospice UK that makes a difference though. The national platform the charity provides through its campaigns raises awareness of the challenges our sector faces, helps us recruit and retain staff, and highlights the ongoing need for Government investment in our services.”

Earlier this year, we reported on the appointment of Robyn Newport as St Luke’s Community Network Co-ordinator for Kingsbridge and surrounding areas, where our At Home team looks after terminally ill people nearing end of life, and supports their families.

Over the past ten months, Robyn has been busy getting to know residents, local business owners, voluntary groups and healthcare services to get more insight into what matters to them when it comes to terminal illness, looking after someone with a life-limiting diagnosis, and how the community has been impacted by loss.

The listening ears and helping hands of the Compassionate Friends trained have helped shape the Compassionate End of Life Care Community in Kingsbridge, which – being in a rural area – is all the more in need since those living there can find it harder to access services of all kinds, including the expert care that’s so vital when your time is running short.

Robyn said: “St Luke’s is committed to coming alongside the communities we serve to realise the potential of informal networks and develop more effective ways to provide support that enhances wellbeing, prevents loneliness and isolation and increases choice for people at the end of their life, so they can die in familiar surroundings with those they love.”

“It’s a been a real privilege getting to know so many people, and it’s clear there’s so much care and compassion in this area. We now have over 75 Compassionate Friends trained across the town – people who lend a helping hand or listening ear to friends and neighbours who have a terminal illness or are affected by loss. We also have Compassionate Friend Champions running awareness sessions and co-ordinators who can help families to organise additional support from local Compassionate Friends.

“Our training is helping people to talk more openly and honestly, helping to break down the taboos around death, dying and bereavement, and bust the unhelpful myths that surround them. They’re seeing how listening and having more compassionate conversations within their own circles, and doing small things to help people at times of crisis or loss, such as making them a meal or doing their shopping, can make a big difference.”

Local businesses are also stepping up to help customers and clients who might be in need of some support. Among them are HAC Hairdressing, Kingsbridge Youth for Christ, and Blooming Organised, a decluttering service.

Robyn has also come alongside Kingsbridge Community College, which is working towards becoming a Compassionate School. With her input, the school is developing and embedding bereavement policies and procedures, electing sixthformers as Compassionate Buddies, and an additional 220 Year 9 students have attended a Compassionate Buddies awareness session, ensuring no student facing loss feels left behind.

In the coming months, Robyn is looking to train more Compassionate Friends, Champions and Co-ordinators in the South Hams area and will continue to grow Compassionate Networks around those with a terminal diagnosis, as well as their loved ones. In addition, she is also working to launch the first Compassionate Café in the Kingsbridge area.

If you, or someone you know living in the area, could benefit from the support, or you would like to receive training so you can help, please contact St Luke’s Education team at education@stlukes-hospice.org.uk.

When most people hear the word ‘hospice’, they picture the doctors and nurses who look after people at end of life, and – while it’s right these experts are prized for all they do for those in their care – working behind the scenes is an army of other hardworking staff, plus dedicated volunteers and of course the generous supporters, equally essential to delivering such a vital service.

With this being annual Hospice Care Week (7 – 13 October)*, St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, which provides specialist care for people with terminal illness, is getting behind this year’s campaign theme, This is what it Takes, which celebrates the work of 200 hospices across the country who support and care for over 200,000 patients, carers and families every year.

Nationally, it takes 40,000 staff and more than 125,000 volunteers to provide this service, which most of us are likely to need one day. Locally, at St Luke’s, there are 300 staff from HR and Finance to Maintenance and Kitchen, supported by 900 volunteers, each one of them passionate about making a difference to those in the charity’s care and with their own personal reasons for working for Plymouth’s Employer of the Year*.

Hospice care is important and demanding, and those who give their time and skills to help provide it to the high standard for which St Luke’s is renowned go above and beyond daily to give patients and their families the care they deserve and need.

Among them is Tracey Chick, Cook at St Luke’s. While she enjoys creating delicious meals for patients, it is the interaction she has with them on the wards at the specialist unit at Turnchapel that gives her extra fulfilment.

Tracey said: “I love meeting our patients. Chatting with them you appreciate them as people rather than just seeing their condition. I take the time to find out about any special dietary requirements they have, such as avoiding lactose, as well as asking them about any particular treats they enjoy. It means I’m learning from them and its knowledge our team can use to help other patients in the future.

“I’m always glad that I’ve been able to connect with a patient, and it’s extra special when I’ve been able to surprise them by making something that triggers a happy memory for them. One lady mentioned she loved cherry and almond scones, so I made a batch for her. A month later, she died and it meant a lot to me that I’d been able to make that little bit of difference.

“When you work at St Luke’s, it’s not just a job. Little random acts of kindness happen on a daily basis and make it really special.”

As a compassionate organisation, St Luke’s recognises it is not just its clinical staff interacting with patients at end of life and feeling the inevitable toll this can sometimes take. People from all backgrounds are drawn to work for the charity because of their desire to make a difference, so there’s support in place to help look after their emotional well-being.

For experienced carpenter Kenny McDonagh, Maintenance Assistant, St Luke’s is world away from the grit and girders of the construction sites he has managed over the years. In a very different environment, he and his colleagues maintain the high standard of all St Luke’s facilities, including its 30-plus charity shops from Plymouth to Launceston and Kingsbridge.

Kenny said: “Since joining four years ago, my eyes have been opened to the difference St Luke’s makes to so many people. The variety of skills I’ve brought with me are really valued here, and in our team of staff and volunteers we can turn our hand to everything, from decorating and shop fit-outs to clearing blocked drains.

“The patients always come first so we are here to help things run smoothly every day, including over Christmas and New Year. While fixing a patient’s television might seem like a small thing, it’s rewarding to know we’ve played a part in helping them relax as much as possible while they’re receiving care. When a dear colleague was himself looked after by St Luke’s recently, it was comforting for me to know he was in the best of hands.”

This sentiment is echoed by Domestic Assistant Chris Smith, who’s been a familiar face at St Luke’s specialist unit at Turnchapel for nearly 20 years.

Chris said: “Working here so long, I’ve seen how St Luke’s has always moved with the times to ensure its facilities are keeping up with what patients need, and I’m proud to have a role in making sure everything is cleaned to the highest standards for them and everyone who works here or visits.

“When I’m cleaning the wards or gathering laundry, I’m more than happy to chat if a patient wants to – it doesn’t only brighten their day, but mine too. It’s lovely getting to know them and hard when they’ve gone, especially when it comes to clearing their room, but the lifelong friendships I’ve made with colleagues here mean there’s always someone to talk to. It’s  such a special place and there’s nowhere I would rather work.”

While hospice care is free for patients, it is not cheap, and in addition to the huge team effort of staff and volunteers, hospices in the UK rely on the public for two-thirds of the £1.4billion a year it costs to provide bespoke end of life care nationally.

For St Luke’s, last year £7.8million was raised by the caring community through donations and legacies, plus its retail outlets, lottery and events such as Tour de Moor and Men’s Day Out. It is only through the ongoing support of the community that the charity is able to continue giving its compassionate care to patients at home, in hospital and at its specialist unit.

Steve Statham, Chief Executive of St Luke’s, said: “We’re proud to support Hospice Care Week because it’s shining a light on just what it takes for hospices like St Luke’s to look after so many people who need us, and to such a high standard.

“Our charity would not be able to help as many people as we do, or as well as we do, without the many unsung staff and volunteers who work so tirelessly to help the families we come alongside. They do it because they’re passionate about making a difference, but we recognise they need support, too. It can be hard working in an environment where people are dying and that’s why we are committed to enhancing the well-being of all our workforce, which helps maintain resilience.

“We also know that without the ongoing support of our big-hearted community, our service simply could not continue. Their generosity is something we never take for granted and I want to say a huge thank you to them, too.”

Learn more about the varied roles at St Luke’s, www.stlukes-hospice.org.uk/jobs

*Hospice Care week is the annual awareness-raising campaign run by national charity Hospice UK

**Plymouth Business Awards 2019

“Look what they’re doing for me – this is five-star treatment.”

These aren’t the words of someone being pampered in the surroundings of a luxury spa, but a special lady in the care of St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, whose service is holistic, helping their terminally ill patients create special memories with loved ones and focussing on what matters to them rather than just what’s the matter with them.

For Tracey Dunne from Dartmoor, who is in her 50s and receiving the charity’s care at its specialist unit at Turnchapel, this has included ensuring her husband Tim can spend as much time as possible at her side and even going the extra mile to reunite her with Malone, her beloved 17-year-old horse.

Recognising both the comfort animals can bring and the importance of making memories when time is running short, St Luke’s worked with the big-hearted stables at Buckland Monochorum to enable Tracey, who has cancer, to spend precious time with her loyal steed in the grounds of the unit.

Out in the sunshine, Tracey found solace as Malone nuzzled her hand, providing comfort as only an old, trusted friend can. But that’s not all because back inside Tracey’s room Betty the Budgie, Tracey and Tim’s much-loved pet, was waiting. Their feathered friend has been made welcome by St Luke’s as part of creating a comfortable home from home for the couple at such a challenging time.

Married for almost 30 years, Tracey and Tim met in the 1980s when Tracey spent a year at Tim’s employer, Taylor, Lane and Creber, as part of her degree in building surveying. Tracey went on to become a well-respected buildings conservation consultant whose work, including for the MoD, has taken her far and wide. Away from work, she has always loved being outside, especially on Dartmoor, enjoying nature and getting muddy. She is a gifted artist, too, often drawing from photographs taken by Tim.

Tim said: “Tracey is so talented, kind and always thinking of others – one of the many memories I treasure is of her in pink pyjamas, doing a charity abseil down the Civic Centre.

“While we’ve played the St Luke’s lottery for years because we’re aware of the outstanding work of the charity – and have often joked that the guy who collects our subs has a knack for calling when I’m down to the last fiver in my pocket – we never guessed it would be us needing the service they provide.”

With Tracey having been looked after by St Luke’s at Derriford Hospital, at home and at the specialist unit, Tim has witnessed the charity’s compassionate care in action with staff taking the time to get to know the couple, sensitively explain treatment and make Tracey as comfortable as possible, paying close attention to what matters to her.

He said: “When you hear the term ‘hospice care’ it is frightening and, while the fear doesn’t go away completely, I’m in awe of the way St Luke’s has been alongside us throughout – it’s given us both such an overriding sense of peace.

“When Tracey needed care at home, nurse Derek came to visit. It wasn’t just his specialist knowledge that helped but his empathy, too. He had a really good rapport with Tracey and knew just how to encourage her to describe her pain and other symptoms so that he could expertly manage them.

“Then, when Tracey needed to be in hospital, the St Luke’s team on Brent Ward always treated us with the utmost respect and went out of their way, despite many other demands on their time.

“Even with such reassuring experience of St Luke’s, the realisation that Tracey needed to be admitted to the hospice building felt daunting. It’s not what you’d expect at all though. In a sense there are many parallels with our home because it’s bright, airy and enjoys stunning views. It’s been comforting for both of us that I’ve been able to stay by Tracey’s side, and from the nurses to the cleaning staff and receptionists, kindness is everywhere.

“Tracey and I always speak openly with each other and with her receiving such expert care, we’ve had the space to have difficult but necessary conversations. As she wanted, we have even been able to discuss her wishes for her funeral.

“From the beautiful gardens to the wonderful way they’ve enabled Betty to be with us and helped reunite Tracey with Malone, I will always be so grateful to St Luke’s and remember the big smile they put on my beautiful wife’s face.”