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Treasured memories of a big-hearted mum and grandmother are inspiring four females from the same Plymouth family to step out together in support of St Luke’s after we gave her such compassionate care at the end of her life.

Louise Pudner and her daughters Chloe, 25, Megan, 22, and Laura, 16, have all signed up to take part in this summer’s Midnight Walk, the annual mass-participation event raising vital funds for St Luke’s and the specialist service we provides for terminally ill people at home, in hospital and at our specialist unit at Turnchapel.

With the ladies’ walk making its comeback on Friday 20 August after it had to be cancelled last year because of the pandemic, the foursome is taking up the opportunity to stride the streets, paying tribute to Louise’s mother Mary Mannell, who was looked after at Turnchapel as she neared the end of her life.

Sadly, Mary died in 2011 but memories of the special person she was, and the huge love and affection she gave her four children, plus the 15 grandchildren born while she was alive, are cherished by her family.

Louise, who lives in Southway, said: “Mum was such a caring person and is sorely missed by us all. Growing up, she was always there for us and when her grandchildren came along she devoted herself to them, too.

“When she was ill it was a very difficult time, and our whole family is so grateful to St Luke’s for being there for her and us as well. It wasn’t just the excellent medical care they gave mum that made a difference, but the way they always accommodated our visits – day or night – making all of us, including the children, feel welcome and at ease.

“I’ll always remember spending precious time with mum in the gardens at Turnchapel, taking in the beautiful views over the water. That meant a lot to her because she and dad always loved the sea.”

Sponsored by GA Solicitors, Midnight Walk will see hundreds of women coming together to support St Luke’s. Just like Louise and her daughters, many will be going the distance in memory of lost loved ones, celebrating their lives while making new memories. All are welcome, regardless of whether we were involved in the care of your relative or friend.

The event starts and finishes at Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park Stadium, with ladies completing a 5, 10 or 15-mile route across the city.

Louise, who along with Chloe, Megan and Laura is taking on the 15-mile route, said: “Walking together is something we are really looking forward to. We’ll be remembering both mum and my dad, who sadly also died from cancer.

“It’s our way of saying thank-you to St Luke’s, not only for care given in the past but right now, too, looking after people who are special to our family. It’s a charity that touches so many lives and we must never take it for granted.”

Registration for Midnight Walk costs £22, which includes the cost of your tee-shirt as well as a medal and goodie bag for all completers. Click here for more information and to sign up.

If you would like to sponsor the Pudner ladies, please visit their Just Giving page.

Inspired by memories of her beautiful mother who was cared for so compassionately by St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, our charity’s very own Finance Director is set to take a million steps to raise vital funds that will help other local families affected by terminal illness.

Sue Cannon, who joined the senior leadership team at the hospice just over three years ago, is taking on the walking challenge with her sister, Carol Giles. Starting on 1 July, they’ll be clocking up at least 11,000 steps each a day to make sure they reach their target of a million steps each by 30 September.

The sponsorship they raise along the way will go towards the specialist care and support St Luke’s provides 365 days a year for patients at home, in hospital and at our specialist unit at Turnchapel.

Sue and Carol’s mother Christine was looked after by the hospice team at home and at Turnchapel before sadly, she died in 2002.

Sue said: “I’ve had the privilege of working at St Luke’s for over three years now and in my role I see first hand how the efforts of all our supporters help pay for the care our charity gives free of charge to those who need it. I decided it was time to do my bit!

“For Carol and me, taking on this walking challenge is also a way of saying thank you to St Luke’s for being a beacon of light for our family. Our dear mum died far too young at just 55. It was an incredibly difficult time, but the team was so kind, helping dad and us to deal with some of the day-to-day challenges you don’t expect. The practical support and advice we received in addition to the specialist care they gave mum at home and at Turnchapel made such a difference.

“I am especially proud that as well as Finance, Facilities and IT, I am also responsible for the Catering department at the hospice, as this brings back really special memories – the simple joy that our mum got from hearing the tinkle of the drinks trolley and the wonderful home-cooked food she enjoyed.

“Thank you, St Luke’s, for caring for our mum with such warmth and compassion…. Let the steps begin!”

Sue is aiming to raise £1,000 to provide a full package of care, emotional support and practical advice for a family at home – see here.

This is your chance to explore the exciting and historic Drake’s Island, set in the beautiful surroundings of Plymouth Sound. We’ve also received word that recently discovered secrets have been revealed.

During it’s fascinating history, the Island – which was born out of the sea 400 million years ago – has been a place of pilgrimage, a refuge, a fort, a prison and an observatory, while local people of a certain age are most likely to remember it as an adventure centre in the 1960s and 70s.

With the site being out of bounds to the general public since 1989, it is a place many long to visit so they can discover its secrets and learn about its past. Those lucky enough to snap up one of the places to visit the historic location will get the opportunity to do just that as they get the lowdown from the Island’s Warden, avid historian Bob King, who will lead the tour.

Bob said: “The best part of my job is researching the history of the Island and sharing it with as many people as possible. Although the fortifications and how they have been used and defended Plymouth over the centuries is fascinating, what brings the history alive are the personal stories of the people on the Island.

“I am really excited to have the chance to take people in Drake’s footsteps and help them discover the Island and its past.”

This promises to be a fascinating journey into Drake’s Island’s story through the ages. The trip includes:

  • Boat journey to and from the Island.
  • Guided tour of Drake’s Island, by an experienced historian.
  • Opportunity to explore the labyrinth of hidden underground tunnels.
  • Exquisite photo opportunities.
  • Wildlife engagement: Seals, herons and egrets are regularly spotted from the island, so keep your eyes peeled!
  • Unique views of Plymouth and Cornwall.

This adventure could make a memorable gift to someone, or simply a very special way to raise funds for St Luke’s. All ticket sales will go directly to St Luke’s (except a small booking fee, which you will be asked to cover on registration).

Click here to book your tickets.

As we head towards the close of this extraordinary year, which has seen our clinical staff work so tirelessly to keep giving their compassionate care, members of our team based at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust share their reflections on these past turbulent months, during which time the hospital’s ‘one big team’ ethos has been tested as never before.

Earlier this year, when the hospital was in the eye of the storm, Specialist Nurses Linzie Collins and Becky Harris were among the St Luke’s staff who joined forces with hospital doctors and nurses on the frontline, looking after seriously ill patients on the COVID red wards. As they stepped up to do this, working flat out, their colleagues at the hospital were also pulling out all the stops to ensure that the terminally ill patients nearing the end of their lives still received the specialist care they required.

Listening to Linzie and Becky talk about their experience then – and how things have been since – with admissions rising again more recently, it is clear that it is not just their expert hands-on care that has made such an important difference, ensuring patients are more comfortable and at ease. It is also the way they have communicated with patients’ families, combining sensitivity and kindness with the clarity that is so necessary to gaining relatives’ understanding of their loved one’s prognosis.

It is this same style of compassionate communication that they have used to help their hospital colleagues feel more confident in having these difficult conversations with patients’ families, including not only newly qualified nurses who suddenly found themselves on the frontline of COVID care, but more experienced staff, too.

Linzi said: “Before joining the team at Derriford I nursed patients at Turnchapel, where having these honest conversations with families happens on a very regular basis. It is never easy but you realise that in being open with them and, in a sensitive way, being clear about what they should expect is actually the kindest thing you can do because it helps prepare them – as much as possible – for what is going to happen. It gives them the opportunity to tell their loved one all that they feel they want to say before that person dies, which helps bring them comfort and more peace of mind.”

Preparing their hospital counterparts to have these open discussions wasn’t the only way Linzie and Becky helped them with communication, though. Recognising that UHP NHS Trust nurses often have difficulty finding the time to make calls to patients’ families, Linzie developed a ‘communication folder’ containing a simple form to record dates, times and brief notes of conversations that took place.. Thanks to the simplicity of the form, it can easily be updated no matter what the time of the day or night the call takes place, even if it’s at 3am.

Linzie said: “Nurses are so busy that they just don’t have time to be hunting around for information. I felt this was something simple I could do to help make things a little easier, with all key details about conversations with family and friends recorded in one central place.

“It was rewarding being able to help in this way to relieve some of the pressure on the hospital team, who have been so brave and are so exhausted, and they welcomed our suggestions and help with this.

“Something that it really brought home to Becky and me is that in working for St Luke’s we have the benefit of time to spend getting to know our patients – it’s all part of our holistic approach. Time is such a precious commodity at the hospital and there are always so many demands on the nurses – they have to prioritise giving clinical care above all else.”

Of course, we can’t mention communication without highlighting how Linzie, Becky and their colleagues had to think ‘outside the box’ to help dying patients – and the loved ones who couldn’t be with them in person because of the pandemic – feel as connected as possible, despite the physical distance between them. Technology had a big part to play here.

Becky said: “I’ll never forget witnessing a Zoom call we facilitated between a patient and his daughter. As you’d expect, she was devastated that she couldn’t be at his side to hold his hand, but she was at least able to tell him over and again how much she loved him. It was heart-breaking to see, but I’m so reassured that she was able to have that conversation with her dad. In time, knowing he heard her say how precious he was to her will – I hope – help heal her memories.”

“Normal grief patterns have been lost in COVID-19 because of how fast things have happened, the restrictions on families visiting their loved one and even funerals having to be done differently, so being able to help – even in small ways – feels very rewarding for us.”

The final word goes to Dr Doug Hooper, Consultant in Palliative Medicine in our team at Derriford. He said: “Although the virus means people have had to stay apart in a way we have never witnessed before, at the hospital we have seen how in another sense it has brought everyone closer together. It is not just our St Luke’s team who have gone over and above but colleagues right across the hospital. While this year has felt exhausting and relentless, we have all learned from each other and are stronger for it.”

Working across the wards of University Hospitals Plymouth (UHP) NHS Trust 365 days a year, there’s a team small in number yet dynamic and consistently compassionate in the face of pressure, who swiftly stepped up to help strengthen the hospital’s emergency response when the pandemic hit hard earlier this year.

Now, with the number of COVID-19 patients on the rise locally as well as nationally, our hospital team is again giving its support to NHS colleagues, fortifying the frontline so that patients who are dying from complications of the virus receive the compassionate end of life care they need. As part of one big team at the hospital, our hospice staff are not only lending their expertise on the COVID red wards though – just as before, they’re pulling out all the stops to continue their usual work as well, ensuring that right across the hospital patients whose time is running short are as comfortable and at ease as possible.

Explaining how St Luke’s stepped up to help the hospital respond in the early months of the pandemic – and how it feels to be back supporting NHS colleagues dealing with the challenge of another influx of COVID-19 patients – St Luke’s nurse Julie Ayers said:

“Ordinarily, our team is involved in looking after up to 40 hospital patients at any one time, ensuring they receive the highest calibre care and giving emotional support to their families, too. While we are a small team, we are also flexible so when the gravity of the COVID-19 situation brought huge extra pressure to bear on the hospital, we were able to adapt quickly as part of its response to dealing with the emergency.

“It was about more than just providing specialist care and advice for patients with complex symptoms caused by the virus. We were also there supporting hospital staff who suddenly needed to have difficult but necessary conversations with patients’ families. This was especially hard for colleagues who’d never done it before, in some cases because they’d only very recently qualified as doctors and nurses. We drew on our experience to build their confidence and help them do this with kindness and sensitivity while not shying away from clarity because it’s so important to be open and honest with families in these situations.

“In addition, when inpatient and outpatient cancer treatment temporarily transferred to nearby Nuffield Hospital, we were there to provide specialist training for staff at the facility, many of whom were completely unused to looking after people with terminal illness because that’s not what their usual work involves. We continued to provide support for them until cancer care returned to UHP NHS Trust in August.”

“When I look back at that time now, which felt so relentless, I also recall how daunting it was, especially in those first few weeks because it was such an unprecedented time and none of us knew what to expect. I felt really anxious at first, especially with so many news reports about healthcare workers dying from COVID-19, but I think those fears are only natural.

“What’s really helped  – and what’s really stood out to me – is the level of support we’ve given each other. It’s been phenomenal, not just in our tightknit St Luke’s team but more widely across the whole hospital. We are really there for each other because we all recognise the importance of what do and at the same time empathise because we’re all juggling our work with the personal challenges everyone is experiencing due to the pandemic.

“We had to adapt the way we worked really quickly because things were changing not just daily but sometimes by the hour. We just got on with it though because that’s what we do. I’ve worked in palliative and end of life care for most of the past 20 years and have been back with the St Luke’s team for the past three – it’s simply where I feel I belong.”

Julie, who is married with two teenage daughters living at home, appreciates the unswerving support her family has given her as she’s continued to deliver vital care for patients week after week.

This time around, she feels she and the team are much better placed to meet the challenges of working on the frontline of hospital care, looking after patients who include those struggling with symptoms of COVID-19.

She said: “I think because of what we’ve already weathered, we know a lot more about what to expect as COVID cases continue to rise, though of course we can never get complacent.

“I still feel some trepidation – my biggest fear would be to have the virus, be symptomless and pass it on to one of my family – but with all the strict infection control measures in place, the hospital does feel a safe place to work.”

“I really want to emphasise the safety aspect because the rising number of deaths in the community points to people with terminal illness putting off hospital treatment because they’re afraid. I want to say to them, please keep your appointments. Or if you’re worried something might be wrong, don’t put off contacting your GP. It’s so important that people don’t delay what could turn out to be life-saving treatment.”

“Despite all the challenges and the emotional toll my work can take, I still love what I do. Although my role can be very sad at times, it is nevertheless really rewarding as I know I make such a difference to people’s lives.”

When your vital work caring for terminally ill people already takes its toll on you emotionally, how do you cope when it is made so much more challenging by the pandemic and its impact on not only the families St Luke’s serves, but the welfare of you and your own loved ones, too?

Selina Rogers and Becci Stafford are Healthcare Assistants (HCAs) with our End of Life Urgent Care Service, which runs seven days a week. In partnership with Marie Curie, it provides co-ordinated, bespoke end of life care and support to patients who need this at home during a time of crisis or change in their condition. The team’s remit extends across Plymouth and out as far as Salcombe, Tavistock and the moors, too.

As HCAs, Selina and Becci are central to the high-calibre care the team provides, ensuring our patients are as comfortable as possible – and their loved ones as at ease as possible – in the midst of very challenging circumstances. The ‘storm’ of the pandemic has meant that their sensitivity and compassion have been even more critical than ever, with the past few months seeing them pull out all the stops to remain the reassuring presence families desperately need, all while managing their own anxieties and concerns around COVID-19.

Selina said: “Helping to look after people who are dying is not an easy job, but we do it because we understand what a difference it makes to patients when their dignity is respected and they feel understood. We know how hard it is for their family members, too, who are often shouldering a lot of the caring responsibilities for the person who is terminally ill.

“That’s why we’ve been determined to maintain the outstanding service so many rely on, despite the many challenges of carrying out our work during the pandemic. As with NHS frontline staff, we’ve had to use all the necessary PPE and though we understand how essential it is, it has been very tough knowing patients can’t see our smiles, or feel the warmth of our hugs or the reassurance of our hand on their shoulder.

“It goes against our natures not to be tactile, so we’ve adapted by telling them when we’re smiling, and even saying to them, “It’s right now that I’d have given you a hug”, just to make sure they know how much we care.”

Even more difficult has been the shock of seeing their patients die much more quickly than in pre-pandemic times. Whereas normally patients live for up to around 40 days from the team’s initial visit, giving time for a comforting familiarity to build between them, many have sadly passed away within just one or two days.

Becci said: “It has felt really hard comprehend at times, especially seeing them looking reasonably healthy one day and finding out that sadly, they have died the next.

“We understand the reasons for this – many people have been getting referred to us much later than they normally would because of the difficulties they’ve had accessing their GP during lockdown, or deteriorating more rapidly due to the pandemic delaying their hospital treatment – but understanding it doesn’t take away the shock and sadness we feel.

“As a team we’ve all had to pull together more than ever to help each other through because every one of us has found it very hard-going.”

Of course, as well as their care and concern for their patients and the families around them, our clinical teams have also faced making tough personal sacrifices to reduce their own loved ones’ risk of contracting the virus.

Becci, who has young children, made the heart-wrenching decision to live separately from them for seven weeks, taking them to live with their father to help protect them while she cared for two patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

“I felt huge guilt in choosing to stay apart from my children, and although I knew it was the right thing to do, I struggled. It’s at times like that I appreciate the team around me even more. At various times, we’ve all been close to breaking point due to the fear of the virus, anxiety and fatigue, but we’ve got through by being there for one another, laughing and crying together. As a unit, we’re stronger than ever.”

Selina concurs: “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, but we have so much empathy for each other and we’re like a family now. We’ve had superb leadership from Sharon Mayer throughout and all our nurses have been amazing, too. It gives you great faith in your team, knowing the resilience that’s been forged through what we’ve all been through.”

Listening to Becci and Selina, it’s clear from the emotion in their voices that they’ve been so tested in recent months yet remain completely dedicated to those in their care.

Becci said: “When a family thanks you for being alongside them from the very first visit to the last, saying how that continuity was made such a big difference to them, it’s incredibly fulfilling. It feels really special.”

In May, at the height of the pandemic, Dr Doug Hooper, Consultant in Palliative Medicine in the St Luke’s team at Derriford, shared how it felt to be ‘in the eye of the storm’ at the hospital, with this specialist team extending their work to support the hospital in caring for COVID-19 patients. Nearly two months on, with such admissions steadily decreasing, two of his colleagues – nurse Linzie Collins and Dr Roger Smith – explain how the experience has been for them, and how the team is adapting as it moves into this new phase.

Linzie, who joined the team in February 2019 after nursing patients at Turnchapel, said: “I think what’s been most remarkable is the way everyone – both in our team and across the wider hospital – has pulled together, supporting each other and quickly adapting to the huge amount of change that’s had to happen quickly due to the gravity of the pandemic.

“It’s been tough at times with new changes daily, sometimes even hourly, but what’s always been at the forefront of our minds is making sure we’ve all been as well equipped as possible to give our very best care to patients who are in their last weeks, days and hours of life.

“Not only did the hospital undergo a complete transformation, with many wards moved or designated as COVID-specific – and Oncology being temporarily relocated to the nearby Nuffield hospital to free up capacity – there was also the redeployment of many staff, including nurses from other specialities who were assigned to our team to help us cope with the anticipated surge in patients needing end of life care. Now that we’re seeing less people with the virus, they’ve been able to return to their usual roles.

“My work has included covering the COVID wards as well as looking after non-COVID patients, which has given me some low-level anxiety because I’m always aware of the risks involved, but it’s been so helpful that this responsibility is shared with my colleagues.

“What’s struck me is how positive and supportive everyone has been, despite the undeniable fatigue that set in coping with the crisis. We’ve all pulled together, and I especially want to thank St Luke’s Clinical Admin, who’ve continued to be a lifeline for us, handling calls and making sure things run smoothly, despite having to do all their work off-site at home.”

Linzie’s colleague Dr Roger Smith is working with St Luke’s as part of his training in palliative care.

He said: “Fortunately, Plymouth has not seen the very high number of COVID-19 cases some other cities have had, but we’ve seen a steady stream of people admitted to the hospital because of the virus, and this has been over a prolonged period. We’ve done really well as a team to manage it, thanks to excellent teamwork and the strong leadership we have, but I won’t deny it’s been challenging at times.

“Not only have we been working with the uncertainty the crisis has brought, it was difficult using the necessary PPE with FFP (filtering face-piece), which looks a bit like a gas mask and can feel hot and uncomfortable.

“Of course, there is the emotional side, too. We’ve been supporting relatives whose loved one is dying without them by their side. However, we’ve been grateful for technology such as phones and iPad screens that’s meant that at least some could maintain some sense of connection. Nonetheless, it’s been heart-breaking to see.

Looking ahead, Roger is uncertain as to what future weeks might bring, given the number of tourists and second-home owners expected in the region soon with lockdown restrictions easing.

He said: “While it is good to see a steady decline in cases, I think our popularity as a holiday destination could make us more vulnerable than some other areas, so we need to remain vigilant. We also need to be well prepared in case of a second wave of cases in the winter months, when traditionally NHS resources are already more stretched.”

Both Roger and Linzie are also concerned that currently at Nuffield they are already seeing an increased number of cancer patients who need palliative care.

Linzie said: “It seems some people are presenting later than they normally would, perhaps because they haven’t been able to access the treatment they need due to the pandemic or because of wanting to avoid what they regard as them placing ‘additional pressure’ on the NHS. We want to reiterate the NHS’s message that it’s vitally important you don’t put off seeking medical help if you’re concerned about your health, and that you don’t miss your appointments.

“The past few months have been emotionally and physically tough, but we will manage whatever lies ahead by making sure we look after ourselves and each other, including taking some much-needed annual leave to bolster our resilience.

“We’ll continue to be here for those who need us, and do whatever we can to make such a difficult time that little bit easier for them and their loved ones.”

Shops currently open
Tuesday to Saturday | 9.30am to 4.30pm

Plymouth City Centre Drake
Plymouth City Centre Pop-up shop (former Toys R Us)
Plympton, Huxley Close (near Chaplins)
Plymstock, Sugar Mill
Launceston
Tavistock

Opening Tuesday 4 August
Saltash

Opening Tuesday 11 August
Plymstock
Estover
Ivybridge
Southway
Torpoint

Opening Tuesday 18 August
Yealmpton
Plympton Ridgeway
Barbican Shabby Chic

Opening Tuesday 25 August
Modbury

All other St Luke’s charity shops remain temporarily closed.

So overwhelming is the kindness of St Luke’s supporters who’ve been donating tonnes of items to our re-opened charity shops, we’ve had to temporarily press pause on our acceptance of more donations!

Don’t worry, we’re working hard to remedy this but, for now, we’d really appreciate your patience in holding on to your unwanted furniture, clothes and bric-a-brac while we safely sort through the tonnes we’ve already received.

Our donation point at the distribution centre in Plympton is temporarily unavailable. Our free furniture collection service has opened again for select collections, visit our webpage to see if you are eligible.

 

BLOG | 8 June 2020

So overwhelming is the kindness of St Luke’s supporters who’ve been donating tonnes of items to our re-opened charity shop at Western Approach, we’ve had to temporarily press pause on our acceptance of more donations!

Don’t worry, we’re working hard to remedy this but, for now, we’d really appreciate your patience in holding on to your unwanted furniture, clothes and bric-a-brac while we safely sort through the tonnes we’ve already received.

Though it’s only a fortnight since our doors re-opened, thousands of pre-loved goods have already filled our huge 8,000sq ft storage space to capacity, so please bear with us while we process them all in accordance with the government safety guidelines, which include us quarantining each item for 72 hours.

We’ll let you know as soon as we can safely re-open our ‘drive in and donate’ self-service facility at the rear of the store. In the meantime, please keep shopping with us. Thanks to our generous supporters, there are more bargains than ever to be snapped up!

Our city-centre pop-up shop at the former Toys R Us site and City Centre Drake shop in Plymouth are still open Tuesday to Saturday 9.30am to 4.30pm for shopping only. Our donation point at the distribution centre in Plympton is temporarily unavailable. But our free furniture collection service has opened again for select collections, call us on 01752 964455 to see if you are eligible.

Shop with us

We have good news for the many kind-hearted supporters who, in ‘normal times’, demonstrate their love for St Luke’s by donating to – and shopping at – our charity shops across Plymouth and surrounding areas. After the weeks you’ve spent patiently waiting for our stores to re-open safely, we’re delighted to let you know that this carefully planned, phased process has begun… gradually!

Following detailed preparations to ensure we adhere to official health and safety guidance relating to retail outlets, we have re-opened city-centre pop-up shop at the former Toys R Us site and City Centre Drake shop in Plymouth (open Tuesday to Saturday 9.30am to 4.30pm).

We recognise that our supporters living some distance from these locations, including more in rural areas, may feel frustrated that their local St Luke’s charity shop isn’t re-opening just yet, but please be assured that we are working hard behind the scenes to ensure the process we follow keeps everyone safe, so please continue to be patient and we will update you as soon as we can.

While much within our shops will be familiar, including good-quality pre-loved furniture, brand new mattresses, clothing along with crockery, books and CD’s.

Naturally, our shops will include all the safety measures you would expect during this pandemic, many of which you will be familiar with if you have been shopping at supermarkets in recent weeks: hand-sanitising facilities, aisle markings to ensure social distancing, limited numbers of people admitted at any one time, and contactless payments preferred, for example. In addition, for the time being we are requesting that you do not try on clothes or handle items you do not wish to buy.

For your peace of mind, be assured to guard against possible spreading of infection, all donated goods will be stored on site for 72 hours before we put them on sale.

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.

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