How Lancaster's St John's Hospice is working through a pandemic

How does a hospice cope with coronavirus?

By Gayle Rouncivell
Thursday, 7th May 2020, 3:45 pm
Chief executive Sue McGraw.
Chief executive Sue McGraw.

We know how hospitals and GP surgeries are managing, and we’re starting to understand more about how care homes cope, but a hospice?

We caught up with some of the people from St John’s Hospice to find out how a local charity that provides end of life care and relies on fundraising to do this is managing in these difficult times.

Your first thought may be that a hospice’s full time job is end of life but we know our local hospice does more than that – St John’s looks after people from diagnosis of a palliative illness right through to the end.

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Maddy Bass, director of nursing & quality.

So what is happening there now, when, to be frank, ‘end of life care’ is a subject that we normally avoid but is on everyone’s lips?

Chief executive Sue McGraw said: “These are very different days, yet we’re here as always and working hard. Our inpatient ward continues to care for people as do our hospice at home and clinical nurse specialist teams who are still working in the community in patient homes.

"Nurses are working different shifts in different areas to make sure we still give that care, compassion and support that our patients deserve.

“There are times of sadness. I miss our wonderful volunteers and the staff we have had to furlough. No one wants to furlough staff, especially at St John’s, which really thrives on teamwork.

Medical director Simon Edgecombe.

"I also miss our café, our day therapy services and our shops, which we have had to close temporarily. The loss of income from fundraising sources is worrying, we have had some funding from the government but until we can open our café, our shops and run fundraising events again we cannot feel secure.

“Our amazing community and their generosity really keeps us all going; donations of money, patient and staff gifts and even PPE – everyday I’m bowled over by the fact that people are thinking of us.”

Maddy Bass, director of nursing & quality, said: “Because of our wonderful nurses, medical team and support staff our core work continues. Their support means we have extended our community work to support nursing and residential homes.

"Now more than ever they need our practical support and our nurses are keen to help. St John’s nurses have been made to feel very welcome by these homes and we are impressed with how they are coping.

“We continue to live our values each and every day; providing that first class outstanding care we are famed for and celebrating the abilities of the people we care for at the end of their lives -coronavirus can’t take that away from us.”

Medical director Simon Edgecombe said: “With nearly 35 years of end of life expertise we are a crucial part in the action against coronavirus. We have always been part of the wider health system and have stepped this up, for example offering NHS colleagues in the hospitals our palliative care expertise over the phone, and in person on wards if needed. We’re bolstering GPs and colleagues by being part of a 24/7 on-call rota - we’re at the end of the phone with advice for senior clinicians.”

“I’m so proud of the St John’s team, they are resilient and they are flexible – coronavirus demands change of us all every day and often pushes change within the day so, we change too to do the best for our patients.

“I’m proud of our community too, when you meet people who have sat at home to make face shields for our staff to keep them safe and see that people have donated money towards PPE and staff salaries, you know you are in good hands.”

Sue McGraw added: “Dame Cicely Saunders was a pioneer in hospice care and initiated the hospice movement. One of our nurses found this quote from Dame Cicely, which is absolutely relevant to these times: 'We cannot take away the whole hard thing that is happening, but we can help to bring the burden into manageable proportions.'