The World Health Organisation has designated 2020 as The Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. At a time when healthcare is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, celebrating those key professionals who are on the frontline of healthcare could not be more important. 

Here at St. John’s Hospice we are reminded every day of the key role our nurses play in providing essential palliative care. St. John’s Hospice CEO Caroline Fox knows the importance of key healthcare professionals. Caroline says, “The 48 strong nursing team at St. John’s Hospice are second to none.” 

Caroline makes a point of meeting and communicating with the staff at our Hospice. “Every time I go to speak with the team I learn something new, but one thing never changes and that is their absolute dedication and professionalism in providing the very best care I have ever had the privilege of overseeing.” 

One nurse who encapsulates what Caroline describes is Sue Hutton. Sue, during the current COVID-19 outbreak, is our Interim Assistant Director of Nursing. A key part of the WHO’s Year Of The Nurse And Midwife is to draw more attention to the crucial work they do and to inspire more people to take up the profession.

Sue knew from an early age what her vocation would be. “As a little girl, I always knew I wanted to be a nurse, that never wavered. I believe the COVID-19 pandemic will actually see an uplift in people wanting to become healthcare professionals – perhaps in a way that they weren’t prior to this. Sometimes it takes something monumental like this to make people realise how important nurses and all healthcare professionals are.” 

It has been particularly challenging being a nurse during the pandemic and our team have had to adapt quickly. At times, the impact has been keenly felt. Sue tells us that while they have been able to care for the patients, their families are not able to have as much access to their loved ones as they’d like. “At the Hospice, we take great care and pride in looking after the family of someone who is terminally ill as well as the patient themselves, so not being able to have that regular face-to-face time with the families has been incredibly difficult for us.”

Personal protective equipment (PPE), while providing vital protection to the nurses also poses its own problems. Sue says, “The protective masks create a barrier between us and the patient that wouldn’t usually be there.” 

Making a connection with their patients is something our nurses love to do, and a key part of the palliative care they provide is to ensure patients always have a friendly and familiar face when they are going through the most difficult times. 

Caroline says, “The key message we have at our Hospital and our Hospice is ‘Putting people first’, and I cannot think of this being better highlighted by the bond our Hospice nurses form with our patients. There is a reason so many family members of our patients continue to remain part of our Hospice, in various forms, long after their family member has departed.” 

When it comes to our Hospice team Sue describes them as family. “We all want to be there for each other, support each other and look after each other as best we can. Our patients become part of our family, the ones who need our care the most.” 

Sue tells us the story of a patient in the Hospice who had very progressive cancer and had received treatment in his home country of Algeria when his uncle brought him to the UK and St John’s Hospice. 

“Everyone knew and loved Hamza,” says Sue. “Our chef would make him special food – we even arranged an art exhibition for him. The way everyone came together to care for him and his family really encapsulates what the Hospice team does. It’s about being creative, it’s about being thoughtful, and it’s about seeing the patient as an individual shaping how you respond to their individual needs, not just their diagnosis. It’s never one-size-fits-all.”

The Hospice team undoubtedly made a difference at a testing time for Hamza and his family, but he also had a positive impact on the healthcare workers. ‘You’d be hard-pressed to go into an office or department in the Hospice and not see some of Hamza’s artwork on the walls, on a desk, wherever it might be,” says Sue. “He touched our lives and we all still hold him in our hearts. That’s what I think sets the Hospice team apart, that we care so deeply about our patients. So when we lose somebody it brings us closer together as a team because it’s a shared experience for us all.” 

This International Nurses Day and the WHO’s Year Of The Nurse And The Midwife we would like to say thank you to all the healthcare professionals out there and in particular the fantastic team of nurses at our Hospice. They are the foundation upon which everything we do is built.