When you mention St Wilfrid’s Hospice to people, the most common words used to describe it are happy, dignified, calm and compassionate.
Over the years it has played a major part in many families’ lives, and as a result, is one of the area’s most highly regarded organisations.
Since it opened in 1987 it has grown from nine beds to 14 – each with en-suite facilities – and from just two part-time doctors it now has two consultants and four doctors in its team.
Roy Walford was its medical director in 1988 and is now a volunteer gardener for the hospice. He said the most important change over the years was having many more facilities, offering a wide range of palliative care options.
As well as its inpatient beds, it has a day hospice, an education centre and chapel and offers occupational therapy and physiotherapy. Two years ago its landmark Hospice at Home scheme was launched, and it also provides bereavement counselling for relatives.
“Working at the hospice everyone is part of one team striving to do the best for people with terminal illnesses, whether it’s in the garden, or a consultant or a nurse or the community nurses,” said Roy. “It’s an incredibly important part of the local community.”
Roy spent seven years in the role, and in 1996 decided to start volunteering; he is one of around 500 volunteers who play a key role in supporting the hospice’s work.
“I joined doing a number of different jobs over the years: bereavement support for people needing emotional and other practical support. I did volunteer driving for the hospice, taking patients and their relatives and in the reception, answering all the calls.
“The garden is important for the hospice. It recognises that a good garden is a nice environment and is very therapeutic for patients and relatives. I do practical things like pruning roses – it’s all part of creating a good environment.”
Over the past three years, the issue of end-of-life care has become a national priority, and as society changes, St Wilfrid’s is looking to see how it can meet those demands.
As of last week the hospice has received 11,374 referrals since it opened. On average this equates to 600 referrals and 400 admissions each year. Throughout the year supporters work hard to raise money for the hospice, which needs £13,213 a day to run its specialist services. Donations form 86 per cent of the funding, while only 14 per cent is from the NHS.
Current medical director Brendan Amesbury joined in 1991, and has seen all the big changes at the hospice.
“I am hugely proud to be part if it,” he said. “It’s hugely rewarding to see the changes and be part of helping to bring them about. When our budget hit £1 million there was a shock, now we are £5 million and things have changed over that time.
“We’ve managed to provide those services with our own independent funding, and I think that’s an important part of what we do, although we’d like more support from NHS.
“Because it is funded by the community there is a lot of feeling of ownership and warmth. I’ve personally looked after lots of people I knew as friends, and two generations of the same family. People want to support us because they recognise us as providing a good service but we’d like to know what we can do better.”
Brendan said there was a real awareness of the hospice in the community, and that many people asked to be referred there themselves. In the future he said one of the aims was to build links with patients who had lung disease or had suffered heart failure and also look at providing services for people with dementia.
“They will become a large group of people and we are looking to fund a specialist clinical nurse to do just dementia work,” he said. “Also, we know lots of people prefer to die at home, and we want to provide care where people would like to be.”
He said one of the most important achievements of the hospice was enabling more people to be at home at the end of their life, as well as having its own nurses working with patients at St Richard’s Hospital.
Another important aspect was dealing with patients on a very human level.
“I like talking to people and using basic human interaction skills to support people who are ill,” he said. “We try to look after them as people rather than patients: a patient is a person with family rather than a patient with an illness and we spend a lot of time talking to families.”
For more information go to the St Wilfrid’s Hospice website or call 01243 775302.