Lancaster hospice staff rise to their biggest challenge during flooding

Two of the Hospice at Home Team Lindsey Openshaw and Natalie Duncan, Registered Nurses.
Two of the Hospice at Home Team Lindsey Openshaw and Natalie Duncan, Registered Nurses.

Lancaster’s hospice faced the most challenging night in its 30-year history after Storm Desmond hit the area.

The Slyne Road hospice was plunged into darkness as the flooding aftermath left many nurses battling through the night to keep patients alive.

Lucy O'Connor, Senior Sister at St John's Hospice

Lucy O'Connor, Senior Sister at St John's Hospice

Nurses, support staff and volunteers at St John’s were left on their own after their emergency power cut out in the early hours of Sunday morning on December 6.

A deluge of rain left their generator standing in 10 inches of water, forcing the emergency lighting to cut off at around 2.30am.

The hospice’s in-patient unit has 13 beds requiring round the clock care and without power it isn’t just the lights they miss, but electric beds, oxygen concentrators, refrigerated medicines, electronic call buttons, heating and telephones.

Sue McGraw, chief executive of St John’s Hospice, said: “For many, the loss of power last week was an inconvenience. For the hospice it was one of the most challenging situations in its 30 year history.”

For many, the loss of power last week was an inconvenience, for the hospice it was one of the most challenging situations in its 30 year history

Sue McGraw

Lucy O’Connor, senior sister at St John’s Hospice, described the moment when the hospice was plunged into complete darkness.

She said: “The night nurses were totally on their own without phones or power.

“I am always very proud of my team but it is at times like this when it really hits home. Our nurses understand that great care isn’t about technology or appliances, it is about listening to a patient and assessing and meeting their needs.

“They didn’t panic or complain, they just got on with their jobs putting the patients first.”

Facilities co-ordinator Paul Nelis battled the floods to get to the hospice during the chaotic weekend.

Paul and his team of dedicated volunteers can turn their hands to anything. However, the events of last weekend meant that even Paul, who knows this building so well, was beaten by the elements.

“He made sure that the nurses had torchlight to work by, that oxygen cylinders were available on the ward and then he manned reception through the night because we couldn’t lock the electronic front doors.”

When daylight came more local staff and volunteers arrived to help with the emergency situation.

Despite the challenges the team faced patients were offered a full roast dinner on Sunday, thanks to the dedication and support of those who were able to reach the hospice.

The hospice building itself was spared from the floods, but the Hospice at Home team, who visit patients in their own homes all over the community, were facing different challenges.

The flooding, combined with the loss of telephone contact, meant that it was very difficult to get to the patients in need.

On Sunday the team prioritised their work to ensure that vulnerable people living alone were visited first.

As well as their usual work, they also took hot flasks, mince pies and battery operated lights out to patients.

Sue said: “The Hospice at Home team were phenomenal throughout. They are paid to do a job but their actions went well above and beyond what was expected.

“They just carried on because they are so committed to their patients and their work. We are fortunate to have them at St John’s.”

The hospice were also touched by the support from the community when people arrived throughout Sunday offering help and support.

Allianz Insurance on Caton Road were raising money for the hospice during the flooding weekend in Lancaster, selling candles and a variety of other products.

In addition to raising money, some team members walked back into Lancaster on Sunday morning handing out the remaining candles to people for a donation of whatever they could afford.

Like many others, the hospice ran on generators throughout the week before being reconnected to the main grid last Friday.

Sue said: “It is testament to the commitment and dedication of our staff and volunteers that patients and families remained largely unaffected by last week’s incident.

“There are too many people to mention individually but to all those members of our community who offered support in so many different ways, thank you.”

If you would like to make a donation please visit or call 01524 382538.

The hospice is also offering their Christmas tree collection service which helps raise funds via a donation. The 2016 Christmas tree collection will be held over January, 8, 9 and 10. Visit to find out more.