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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.

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.

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.

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