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How the nurturing environment of St Luke’s, plus her own gentle strength and tenacity, have helped Anca thrive in her role at St Luke’s.

When you’ve arrived from overseas to live in another country and are still learning its language, you often rely on the non-verbal cues you pick up from those around you to help you adapt to the culture and your new surroundings. It is an experience Staff Nurse Anca Marasescu – who arrived in Plymouth from Romania in 2011 – has found helpful to draw on in her work caring for patients and supporting their relatives at our specialist unit at Turnchapel.

Anca, who lives in the city with her husband and twin daughters, said: “It is so important to be sensitive to how our patients and their families are feeling, which is about more than just listening to their words. Sometimes, the look in their eyes, or their posture, can tell me more about how they are feeling – and how they might want to receive my help – than what they say.

“I don’t see myself as special because as a team we all very attentive to them and their needs. We each bring our own unique perspective to our role at St Luke’s, and I think my experience of adapting to life and work in a foreign country, and not always being able to rely on words because the language was new, has become a strength and part of what makes me empathic in what I do. I never forget that our patients and their loved ones who visit them at Turnchapel are in an unfamiliar environment so need gentle support and extra reassurance.”

Patients and carersWhen Anca joined our charity in 2017, she was new to hospice care but not to nursing itself, having worked first in a neo-natal unit in Romania, taking care of newborn babies needing intensive care, and then at Derriford, where she was a nurse looking after patients on Lynher Ward.

Anca said: “Though it wasn’t something I deliberately planned, my career has taken me from caring for new lives and then to nursing adults – usually those in middle age – to where I am now, giving care to people approaching the end of their lives.

“When I started working at Turnchapel I was out of my comfort zone and, with so much to learn about the specialist service St Luke’s provides it did feel daunting. As well as the support I got from my family, who are always telling me, “You can do it!”, what helped was the warm welcome I received and the consistent encouragement I’ve had from colleagues to always be myself while soaking up as much as I can. They know me and my ironic humour, and they’ve never wanted me to change or to lose my accent.”

Anca also cites the strong leadership the team has from Nicola Pereira, Head of Inpatient Nursing Services, and Sister Karen Thorrington as being key to her growth and development at St Luke’s.

“It doesn’t matter where I turn help is there, so I always feel well supported. Feedback from my manager Karen is really helpful, and when she described seeing my progress as just like watching a bud come into blossom, it really touched me to know that I am making a difference.

“As well as helping our patients feel as at ease as possible, just like the rest of the team I am always thinking of their relatives, too. Knowing that they will always remember how they felt when their loved one died, I reassure them that they did their best for that person. Giving them that comfort is really important because it helps them process what has happened and, over time, come to terms with such a significant loss. I think of my own family and how I would want them to be treated in that situation.”

“I’m really happy that in working with the St Luke’s team I have found somewhere that feels like home. We appreciate our similarities and also recognise that our differences are a strength and help us learn from each other. Regardless of how long they stay, everyone who chooses to work at the hospice is special.”

If you are interested in joining our team at St Luke’s, you can find out more and see our current vacancies here.

A 30-year career spanning both clinical and non-clinical roles with St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth has given Paula Hine a unique perspective on the organisation and how it has evolved in order to survive in an increasingly tough climate.

Reflecting on her long career with the charity, Paula, who has recently been appointed Interim Head of Education at St Luke’s, said: “When I first walked through the doors of the specialist unit Turnchapel all those years ago, little did I imagine where my experience of looking after terminally ill patients on the ward would lead me.

“I grew up in nearby Tavistock and my early nursing career started locally at South Hams Hospital, where I did a bit of everything, but over time my interest in caring for people at end of life grew and this was the area I was keen to focus on. It appealed to me because of the ethos of holistic care, which led to me keeping an eye out for a job at St Luke’s.

“When I joined in 1991, the organisation was much smaller than it is today. The focus was on Turnchapel, where as well as inpatient care we also had a day hospice.

“At that time, nursing was still very traditional and even Florence Nightingale-ish in its hierarchy. The Doctor and Matron were in charge and we wore frilly hats which served no purpose! Thankfully, the hats wouldn’t be allowed now because of greater focus on infection control, but I still smile at the memory.

“St Luke’s did not have the wider support services we have today, except for admin for the clinical team, some educational provision and a small facilities team. In those days, we had no fundraising team as such but lots of eager volunteers. On the community care side, we worked with Macmillan and Marie Curie nurses – this being the roots of the service we have now, looking after patients at home – but we were yet to have a team at the hospital, something which did not develop until around 15 years later.

“I could always see that St Luke’s was keen to innovate and fluid enough to respond to the changing needs of patients, and when I developed an interest in increasing our provision for our patients with lymphoedema (a chronic condition that causes swelling in the body’s tissues), I was pleased to be encouraged to investigate the best way of doing this.

“Looking outside, and even travelling overseas, to learn about best practice enabled me to build a case for us to go from the massage therapy and bandaging that I already did for our patients, pushing a trolley around the ward, to extending the treatment – which can make such a positive difference to someone’s quality of life – so that it benefitted people at an earlier stage of their illness as well as those who were already inpatients. The funding we secured also helped us provide lymphoedema treatment for people with a non-cancer diagnosis, such as vascular- related oedema. It felt really rewarding to build the Lymphoedema Service from the ground up and develop it into the very busy clinic it became with a team of three.

“One of the best parts of the job was the rapport I developed with the people who came regularly for treatment, but this meant it was also very hard when they died because it does take an emotional toll. After ten years, I felt the time was right for me to step back from giving hands-on care, and this happened to coincide with an opening at St Luke’s for someone with the right experience to lead and grow the education we were already providing to our own staff and district nurses to help them fulfil their clinical competencies.

“The service started with me helping nurses with their clinical skills, such as infection control, tracheostomies and ‘drips and drains’, and grew into a team under the banner of HR. Gradually, links grew with the University, and the first module I developed was a bespoke assessment skills module for our Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) team, which along with other external courses helped to generate income for St Luke’s. When Gail Wilson arrived as Head of Education, she used her expertise and strategic approach to take this to the next level, developing a really innovative service involving a wide range of funded education projects, including education for care homes. About the same time, Liz Lawley joined the Education team, bringing experience of a Six Steps Care Home programme from Cumbria, which we introduced here, adapting it to include education end of life care for people with dementia and learning disabilities.

“Of course, as well as all the changes there have been in the Education team and the service we provide, so many years with St Luke’s means I have witnessed the evolution of the organisation as a whole, observing the way it has flexed to survive in a way that, sadly, some hospices have not been able to.

“I’ve seen connections, collaborations and partnerships grow, and huge expansion in retail and fundraising. What really continues to hearten me though, is our charity’s continued focus on meeting the needs of our patients. I remember the years when we first started looking after patients with non-cancer conditions, such as AIDS, and I have seen younger people needing our care, including those with brain tumours or motor neurone disease.

“While of course there is sadness because of the nature of our service, there is definitely more laughter than tears and, when I look back on my career so far – and the colleagues who have been there along the way – it is definitely with a smile.”

When news came that a patient at St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth who desperately wanted to spend precious time with her horse would see her wish fulfilled, the charity’s Communications and Marketing team sprang into action to ensure the horse’s visit to the specialist unit’s grounds to be with his loving owner was captured on video, just as she and her husband wanted. You can read the story here.

Viewed by over 500,000 people online, this moving film not only meant a great deal to the patient and her family, it perfectly illustrates the way the skills of the team dovetail to create impact for St Luke’s, telling our stories both internally to colleagues and externally, including to new audiences as well as loyal supporters.

As with all departments across our charity, it is always ‘patients first’ for this very busy team, led by Head of Communications and Marketing, Robert Maltby, who has been with the charity for over six years. No matter what other work is scheduled, they recognise that prioritising the needs of those in our care is an essential part of making sure they feel special despite their very difficult circumstances.

Robert said: “The film is a great example of the additional people skills involved in our work. It would be easy to think as an outsider a 30-second video is fairly quick and simple to produce. In reality, behind the scenes it took our team of four several days, with many interactions with the patient and their family, to build trust and deliver something that was both respectful and met everybody’s expectations. You are dealing with a situation that can change by the hour and re-purposing content for a multitude of platforms.”

“As a manager, I also have to ensure the health and well-being of my team are a priority, encouraging them to open up about the emotional challenges they may face when working on such an emotive story. It can be very emotionally challenging, but it is a real privilege to be involved with a family at such a personal and private time.”

 

Robert added, “While for many healthcare professionals there are support mechanisms in place, for example ‘clinical supervision’, St Luke’s should be praised for going over and above to support non-clinical staff. Often for every patient video or photo the wider pubic may come across, there are many more videos the team are involved in that stay private for the family. If support wasn’t in place it would ultimately take its toll.”

While the team of four spends much of their time collaborating to make sure the public and other stakeholders, from healthcare professionals to local authorities, are better informed about our vital service, through brochures, feature articles, media relations and social media, they also work hard to meet our charity’s need to engage donors and people willing to fundraise for us to ensure our work continues for generations to come.

From creating and delivering innovative, high-impact print and digital campaigns that help rally thousands to take part in our flagship events such as Tour de Moor and Men’s Day Out, to crafting creative content for Hospice Care Week and the Impact Report, Robert, Jesse (Graphic Designer), Rhianne (Digital Communications Officer)  and Paola (Communications Officer) take pride in producing work that not only boosts awareness but reflects well on the highly professional and compassionate organisation we are.

This commitment to high standards extends to St Luke’s retail network, too. Robert said: “With our chain of over 30 charity shops, as with all our print and digital materials, making sure St Luke’s branding is ‘on point’ is crucial. Our team’s work to build, enhance and protect it is an important part of maintaining the high profile and high esteem we hold in the community and attention to detail really matters. So, whether it’s shop signage, staff uniforms, web pages or leaflets, we are here to make sure the look is right.”

Read the brand and communications guidelines that are the bible behind a great Communications and Marketing team.

When you factor in that the team is also responsible for all St Luke’s social media across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, key internal communications through the intranet and St Luke’s TV screens, and working with the media to deal with their queries and promote important news about our charity, you realise that they are masters of multi-tasking and time management!

The challenges?  “I think our communications challenges are the same as every other hospice in the UK, and that is around the public’s understanding of how hospice care has changed over the years,” said Robert. “People will associate hospice care with a building. That was St Luke’s over 35 years ago. Over 50% of our care is now delivered at home with only 5% in our traditional hospice building.  Taboos around talking about death and dying, and understanding we are about more than just cancer and go beyond serving the city of Plymouth also are communications barriers. However, we are making great progress to change perceptions with stakeholders by ensuring simple key communications messages flow through all our channels at every opportunity.”

What makes a good communications and marketing strategy? “I firmly believe the key to a successful hospice communications and marketing strategy is all about storytelling and a focus on the people. It is not necessarily about the ‘ask’ to get loyal stakeholder buy-in,” said Robert. “As many of my fellow hospice communications professionals will concur, there is a lot more behind the glossy fundraising posters and social media posts. From protecting the reputation of the charity to horizon scanning for new trends and technology, many of these daily tasks happen unnoticed. The future of digital communications is exciting. As regional media declines outside our major cities, becoming self sufficient with your digital content has the potential to reach far greater audiences than relying on a traditional media release”.

Robert concluded, “It’s definitely a challenge though because not only are there so many teams needing our support, we also get affected emotionally when we are meeting patients and their loved ones and telling their personal stories to the world – that’s part of what makes us human.”

Read the stories behind St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth.