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Small in number yet dynamic and consistently compassionate in the face of unprecedented pressure, the St Luke’s team at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHP) is making a vital contribution to the hospital’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Doug Hooper, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, is part of our team there, which also includes team leader Martin Thomas, nurses James Mills, Linzie Collins, Julie Ayres, Julia Pugh, Becky Harris, Julie Thesinger and Dr Hannah Gregson and Dr Roger Smith, and their Clinical Admin colleagues Jenny Francis and Jenny Brooks. Here, Doug shares how he and his colleagues have rallied, helping to fortify the frontline during this time of crisis.

“Ordinarily, we’re involved in looking after up to 40 patients at any one time, working alongside the hospital doctors and nurses across the wards so that people with terminal illness receive the highest calibre care as they near the end of their lives. We’re also here for their families, providing much-needed emotional support.

“Given the tremendous gravity of the COVID-19 situation and the huge additional pressure it’s putting on the NHS, we’ve naturally pulled out all the stops to adapt what we do really quickly so that the hospital is as well prepared as possible to manage the influx of people admitted with complications from the virus.

“Now several weeks in, UHP is relatively quiet due to much of the non-urgent inpatient and outpatient care being postponed, but the situation can change by the hour. There are ‘red wards’ dedicated to people struggling with COVID-19 symptoms and sadly, some of them have died. That’s why our team is embedded on these wards, supporting the doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants so that they have a better understanding of each individual patient’s needs.

“Crucially, we’re providing emotional support for the hospital staff who need us, some of whom are relatively inexperienced nurses. Understandably, the enormity of the situation can take a toll on them so we are there to listen and help however we can.

“With both patients and their relatives in mind we’ve helped the hospital’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service access iPads for each ward so that families can keep in touch. While it’s heart-breaking that people can’t usually visit their loved one due to current restrictions, it’s really moving to see how Zoom and social media have helped bring people together so powerfully at such a challenging time. These human connections are vital to the relief of suffering.

“We’ve also worked closely with the hospital communications team and Annie Charles from the Mustard Tree Cancer Macmillan Support Centre so that family can be offered more in-depth support and be able to send uplifting personalised messages to their loved ones.

“When it is clear that a patient is not going to survive COVID-19, doctors and nurses need to have brave, honest and realistic but kind conversations with families. This is far from easy even when you have worked in end of life care for years, but the pandemic means some staff are facing this for the first time, having to break the hardest of news to those who can’t be there to hold their loved one’s hand.

“We’ve used our experience to produce advice packs for staff to help them feel better prepared to have these conversations with truth and clarity but gentleness and kindness, too.

“Part of relieving pressure on the NHS is the private sector lending its support, so our team has been busy providing specialist training to those working at the Nuffield Health Plymouth Hospital as the organisation is lending its facility and workforce to UHP by temporarily providing both inpatient and outpatient cancer treatment. It’s heartening to see them getting behind the NHS like this in the interest of public health.

“In the toughest of circumstances so many positive changes have been made, and I hope many of them will continue to benefit healthcare in the future. Our team will remain agile as this situation unfolds, working shoulder to shoulder with our NHS colleagues to meet the challenge. And I know we’ll continue to support each other – the camaraderie between us is second to none.”

Learn more about St Luke’s at Derriford.


Among our amazing volunteers giving their time and skills unpaid to help our charity is a special lady who has stepped up from one shift a week to five in these extraordinary times.

On a ‘normal’ Thursday, Linda Morris is a friendly face at our airy Driftwood Café at Turnchapel, where she serves meals, snacks and drinks to visitors and staff with a warm smile. It’s a role she has grown to love since she began volunteering with us after her beloved husband Brian died and following retirement from her long career in procurement at the University of Plymouth.

Now though, with the pandemic meaning that sadly, she can’t visit her mother or sister – who are both living in separate care homes – Linda is kindly using her free time to make even more of a difference. With the café currently closed and visiting patients restricted due to safety precautions, she is putting the experience she has already gained at St Luke’s to good use, helping her Catering colleagues by serving food and drinks to our patients on the wards at the specialist unit.

Linda said: “Usually, I visit mum in her care home every day and my sister two or three times a week, but the impact of the pandemic means a lot more spare time. It is hard not being able to see them, but I didn’t hesitate to up my hours at Turnchapel because I know the difference an extra pair of hands can make.

“It’s very much a two-way thing because, living alone, my St Luke’s family means a lot to me. So yes, I give but I also gain. The unit is such an uplifting place and I love being there with other volunteers and chatting with the nurses.”

During her shifts, Linda is busy making teas and coffees for our patients and serving their meals so she wears the necessary PPE, including facemask. She said: “I’m used to helping out, serving drinks on the ward as part of my usual shift, and I always say hello to the patients and let them know by my smile that I care. Now though, my mask means they can no longer see me smiling, so I try to spend a little longer with them, chatting and having a bit of friendly banter. We even laugh together when they can see my goggles steaming up!

“I relate to some of what they’re going through being separated from family at the moment, and if I can show them I care, I feel I’ve made a difference.”

Catering Manager Lesley Henderson said: “Without our volunteers we would struggle to run our catering so well even in ordinary times and now, their support is more appreciated than ever. Linda is so helpful and positive, going way above and beyond with all these extra shifts, and I couldn’t be prouder that she’s part of our team.”

A big thank you to Linda, as well as all our other kind-hearted volunteers. Whether you are currently volunteering with us or isolating at home, we really value you all!

Learn more about volunteering at St Luke’s.