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