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Colin Pincombe, St Luke’s Impact Volunteer Partner in the South Hams, rounds up the news on what’s been happening across the area to support our charity’s compassionate care in the community.

“Our volunteers are gradually mobilising after the lockdown. Recently, the Friends in Modbury held a most successful stand at the Modbury Fair, selling clothes, accessories and raffle tickets to raise almost £500. This is a really sociable and supportive group, and it is a pleasure to be associated with them.

“My dream is to form one or two similar groups elsewhere in the South Hams – maybe in Kingsbridge, Salcombe or Ivybridge. Membership can lead to lasting friendships, while supporting an essential local healthcare charity. Do get in touch with me if you might be able to help – please see contact details below.

“With the easing of some lockdown restrictions, St Luke’s Open Gardens scheme has been able to proceed. In the South Hams the weather was glorious for our events at Lower Combe Royal (Kingsbridge) and Gnaton Hall (near Newton Ferrers); it was a little cloudy at Lukesland (Ivybridge), but this did not detract from the fabulous flora and scrumptious cakes.

“Future Open Gardens are at Lower Combe Royal (Kingsbridge) on 20 June and Sommerswood Lakes (South Brent) on 11 July. More will follow, and further information can be found here. Here you will see there’s also the opportunity to win an original painting by Brian Pollard. We are so grateful to the owners who open their beautiful gardens in aid of St Luke’s.

“A Compassionate Café was opened in Kingsbridge in mid-June. This enables anyone who is looking after someone who is dying, has been bereaved or is living with a life-limiting illness to talk to someone with a sympathetic ear. Where needed, more specialised services can be signposted to provide specific advice. Do come along to the Compassionate Café for tea, coffee and a chat, every second and fourth Saturday, 10.30am – 12.30pm, at Harbour House Café, Kingsbridge. Please contact the café organiser, Linda Christian, on 07517 019131 in advance to say that you wish to attend or for more information.

“We have been chosen to be sponsored by the Lions Club of Ivybridge and to run a stand at their annual Fun Day on 10 July at the Rugby Club, Cross-in-Hand, Filham, Ivybridge. Please visit us there or, better still, put on your straw hats and come to enjoy The Wurzels on 9 July from 7pm. Booking and further information can be found here.

“There are many other events further afield, such as the Eddystone Lighthouse Challenge. Nine boats have entered in aid of St Luke’s, all from the Plymouth area, so I’m looking for an entry to represent the South Hams. See Sail for St Luke’s for details.

“Do contact me if you feel you might be able to help – 01752 492626 / cpincombe@stlukes-hospice.org.uk.”

For three little girls whose father died from cancer last year, their teddy bears will always be incredibly special because – at the press of a paw – they can hear Daddy’s voice reminding them of his enduring love and affection.

When 37-year-old surfing instructor Russ French from Loddiswell (South Hams, Devon) was in his last days of life at Turnchapel, where our team looked after him, he recorded the heart-warming messages his wife Ginny says have since brought great comfort to the couple’s daughters, Effy, 9, and Aria, 4, just as they will to 1-year-old Indi, who was just a few months old when sadly, Russ died.

 

Ginny said: “Russ was always the most happy, chilled-out person but when his condition deteriorated quickly and he needed hospice care, it was a very anxious time for us. When you’re both in your 30s, it is not something you expect to be facing and it felt very daunting. This was all in the midst of the pandemic, too, which made things even harder.

“It really helped that the team was so warm and welcoming. Most people know about the fantastic medical care St Luke’s provides but what stood out to me was the way they showed great kindness to us as a family. It was Lisa, one of St Luke’s Family and Children’s Support Workers, who suggested that Russ record the teddy messages for the girls. She was there for us back in 2019, when she gently helped to prepare the girls for the changes they would see in Russ, and she has been such a source of reassurance for them – and me – ever since.

“For the wider team, too, nothing was ever too much trouble. I remember how they bought fish and chips for Russ as they knew it was his favourite, and they made sure he could get out into the gardens to see the sun setting.

“They did all this despite the challenges they were facing providing care while adhering to all the COVID safety measures. Russ was given a side room with private access so that I could visit and he could watch Effy and Aria run around and play with the sandboxes just outside his window. He was always such a loving, hands-on dad and I know how much that meant to him.

“This being our second Father’s Day without Russ, we’ll take it as it comes and I’ll be led by the girls. I expect we’ll be on the beach at Bigbury, where we had so many happy times with him. And whenever they want to hear Daddy’s voice, the teddies will always be there for Effy, Aria and Indi as a reminder of that very special bond.”

Our heartfelt thanks to Ginny and all Russ’s family and friends for the fantastic fundraising they have done for St Luke’s in memory of such a special man. They’ve raised over £19,000, for which we are so grateful.

If you’d like to remember a special dad by supporting St Luke’s, take a look at our in memory giving options 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.”

Taking up a post at St Luke’s is always going to be more than ‘just’ starting a new job.

What our charity does for patients and their families, uplifting them at a very challenging time, means that whether you have direct contact with them or are in a more behind-the-scenes role, there’s the reward of knowing you’re part of a very special team making a vital difference in your community. But it goes beyond that, too, because we invest in our staff and, as part of a package that also includes a generous annual leave allowance, pension and healthcare scheme, we offer them development opportunities as well

When Rachel Vosper was working as a Healthcare Assistant (HCA) at Turnchapel, where we look after our most vulnerable patients, she enjoyed learning all about the practical needs of people in our care, all the while nurturing her long-held dream of becoming a nurse. Now – thanks to an exciting opportunity for her to take a big step towards that goal by training as our first Nursing Associate – she’s feeling more fulfilled than ever.

Rachel said: “Working as an HCA was fantastic, but the longing to be a nurse never left me. It felt quite disheartening at times, really wanting to learn more about the clinical care patients need but feeling held back because I couldn’t afford to study for the degree you need to enter nursing. So I was over the moon when I found out about the opportunity to train as a Nursing Associate at St Luke’s. I’d never even heard the job title before and couldn’t wait to know more!”

The University of Plymouth’s Pre-registration Nursing Associate programme is an apprenticeship open to both new and existing healthcare staff, enabling them to study for a fully funded foundation degree and obtain a professional qualification and registration with the Nursing & Midwifery Council. Once qualified, Nursing Associates can work across a wide range of healthcare settings and clinical areas, including acute or community hospitals, community nursing teams, GP practices and hospices.

Rachel said: “As a mum of two, being able to earn while I learn is key for me. Training as a Nursing Associate at St Luke’s means I can work towards my qualification while being paid a salary, and the structure of working four days a week and studying at the Uni on the other day means I still get to enjoy time with my family on my days off. It’s working out really well – I always want to learn more and keep challenging myself, and being at St Luke’s I know I’m learning from the best.

“What helps, too, is the great support I get from colleagues, from our doctors, nurses and HCAs to the Education and Social Care teams. It isn’t just about the clinical skills I’m gaining – like taking blood, catheterisation of patients and giving them their medication – it’s learning more about how to have those sensitive conversations with families and giving the emotional support patients and their loved ones need.”

As part of their training, Rachel and her fellow University students spend time reflecting on their practice so that they continue to improve. She said: “It gives me the chance to really absorb new experiences and help me do my best – I want to feel I’m doing everything I possibly can to make sure patients receive excellent care.”

While the pandemic means that Rachel’s study has had to take place online in recent months, and that certain placements have been cancelled, she has benefited from spending time with district nurses, learning about their role, as well as from a placement at a local GP surgery.

She said: “All this means I’m getting a well-rounded experience that’s giving me greater understanding of other healthcare roles and how they work together.

“I’m excited about the future, especially working more closely with our doctors and nurses and having my own patients to look after. I hope I can help those who may take up the opportunity to train in the future. I’d really like to support them in achieving their goals, too.”

With an eye on the horizon, Rachel knows that qualifying as a Nursing Associate means she can, when she’s ready, get a faster track to achieving her ambition of becoming a nurse by entering direct to the second year of degree study at the University.

Nicola Pereira, Head of Inpatient Nursing Services at St Luke’s, said: “As an HCA, Rachel was already an asset to St Luke’s and now she’s a trailblazer as she works towards becoming our first qualified Nursing Associate. It is always rewarding seeing members of the team develop and fulfil their potential, so it’s brilliant seeing her go from strength to strength.”

For more on working with St Luke’s – and details of our current vacancies – click here.

“When I start my shift after two days off and realise all my patients’ names have already gone from our whiteboard, that’s when it really hits home how much more quickly people are dying now because of the pandemic. It’s utterly heart-breaking.”

With the country entering its second national lockdown this week, a healthcare professional from St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, who knows first hand the impact the pandemic is having on not just lives but deaths too, has shared how it feels to be part of the local charity’s dedicated workforce carrying out their vital service for terminally ill patients and their families while cases of the virus continue to rise.

As a Healthcare Assistant with the Urgent Care Service run by St Luke’s in partnership with Marie Curie, Selina Rogers is used to dealing with death. She and her colleagues choose to work in the challenging environment of hospice care because they understand the difference their specialist skills, and their kindness and sensitivity, make to terminally ill people at the end of their lives. What has changed over recent months, though – and increased the emotional toll on this resilient team – is the speed at which their patients are dying.

Between them, Selina and the rest of the team, which as well as her fellow healthcare assistants includes doctors, nurses and bereavement support workers, cover Plymouth and surrounding areas and are out on the road seven days a week looking after patients at home during a period of change in their condition or a crisis. It is what they do to make the community a kinder place for people who are dying and for the loved ones around them. It also reduces unnecessary admissions to hospital, relieving pressure on the NHS.

This provision from St Luke’s, which is so essential to making their patients more comfortable – managing their symptoms and putting them and their loved ones as at ease as possible – is given by the charity at no cost to those who receive its personalised care and support. The Urgent Care team is continuing to meet the increasing demand for specialist end of life care at home, despite St Luke’s experiencing loss of income with its charity shops being forced into closure for much of this year and its popular mass participation events, such as Midnight Walk and Men’s Day Out, postponed until safer times, in accordance with government advice.

Selina said: “We see a lot of death in what we do, but during this last six to seven months there’s been more than ever. I don’t mean people who’ve died from COVID-19 but those with conditions such as cancer, motor neurone disease and heart failure.

“We can lose four patients just in one day – that’s around what we’d usually expect in a week. We can finish a shift and have our two days off, come back to work and see patients’ names that are all new because those we’d looked after on our previous shift have already died. I find that incredibly tough.

Explaining more, Selina said:  “I think it’s because we’re getting our referrals in later and people are dying a lot sooner. It’s almost like crisis intervention – in many cases, we’re going in the last 24 – 48 hours of their life and making sure they’re comfortable.

“We think it’s in part because many people haven’t been going for routine appointments at hospitals either because they’re scared it’s not safe during the pandemic or because they’ve not wanted the NHS to feel any more stretched than it already is.

“This time next year we’re likely to see even more deaths because people aren’t having the treatment they need. That’s why I want to echo what the NHS is telling everyone, reminding people just how important it is for them to keep their appointments, and if they feel unwell or notice anything out of the ordinary in terms of their health, to talk to their GP.”

As she and her colleagues brace themselves for working throughout another lockdown to reach the many people who need their compassionate care at home in their last days of life, Selina said: “It can feel really challenging looking after people who are so poorly, but we never shy away from it and the pandemic has not – and will not – change that.

“It is very special to be almost be part of a patient’s family during such a vulnerable time. I feel privileged that in my role I can give them not only practical support but be a reassuring presence that reminds they don’t have to go through it alone.

“Another important part of what we do is preparing them for what’s going to happen, getting the balance right between being gentle but not sugar-coating the truth because it’s crucial to be honest. These are not easy conversations to have but in my experience families appreciate that openness and feel relief that they can share whatever they’re feeling with us.

“What I do miss since the pandemic started though, is being able to give them a hug when they need it. We can’t because we all have to respect the safety measures that help keep everyone safe from the virus.

“Just this week, I was with a lady who sadly died while our team was there. Her husband was heartbroken yet I couldn’t put my arm around him the way I usually would – it’s instinctive when someone desperately needs that comfort and it feels really alien and frustrating not to. I just rested my hand on his shoulder and hoped he could see in my eyes how much I care because of course the masks we wear as part of our PPE make it harder for people to read our expressions.”

“What helps me at those times is feeling I’ve done all I can to make such a difficult time that little bit easier for families and knowing St Luke’s bereavement team will be there to support them as they grieve, the comfort blanket they need as they gradually come to terms with their loss.

“Going into this second lockdown is tough on everyone and particularly challenging for people affected by terminal illness because they might be feeling more isolated or anxious. I want to reassure our patients, their carers and their families that St Luke’s will continue to be there for them.

“I also want to thank everyone who supports our charity because it makes such a difference. I’ve been so touched by the way the community has kept us close to their hearts despite the pressures they themselves are facing.

“There doesn’t seem to be any slowing in the higher number of deaths at home and our service will be needed more than ever in the months ahead, so everyone’s kind words and thoughtful gestures really help all of us at St Luke’s dig that little bit deeper to keep going for our patients, whatever this pandemic throws at us.”

The Urgent Care Service is a partnership between charities St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth and Marie Curie.

Working closely with district nurses, GPs and health and social care agencies, the team ensures high-quality, co-ordinated and compassionate care and support for terminally ill patients who need a high level of specialised care at end of life and want to be looked after at home.

The service reaches across Plymouth and into the surrounding areas of South West Devon, including Salcombe, Kingsbridge, Ivybridge, Tavistock and the Moors.

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!