Jo Woolf of South Bucks Hospice: Why our new hospice is so important

PUBLISHED: 15:03 04 July 2016 | UPDATED: 15:23 04 July 2016

Nurses try a little dancing in wellies at the new hospice site

Nurses try a little dancing in wellies at the new hospice site


With under a year to go until the opening of a hospice with a radically-different approach, Jo Woolf, CEO of South Bucks Hospice, explains why this is so important

If ever I question myself over why we are spending millions on a new hospice, I only have to turn to the letter from a terminally-ill mother who passed away this year. The profoundly-moving personal message from the woman in her early 40s - who asked for it to be only opened after her death - stays constantly on my desk and keeps me sane and focused.

It is titled simply ‘What a mother would hope for with terminal cancer’, and talks about how her three young children will cope after her death. The letter tells of her sadness about not being part of the journey to support her young ones in the major moments of their lives.

It was the fact that she would not be there on wedding days or at the birth of grandchildren to ease their anxiety that she said ‘tore my heart apart’. Therefore, if a hospice could have extended care that her children could use, and dip in and out of, at their most vulnerable times ‘this would be amazing’, she wrote.

The mother wanted to know that her children would have continual support in their journey to adulthood - and always have a ‘grounded place to come and talk and not have to start again and tell new people their history’.

She added: “A hospice that provided that place to go where you were known would give me peace of mind.”

Sadly, she has now died, but her legacy lives on in her family – and indeed in her selfless letter which is a constant spur to me and my team. It is our mission to make the dream of her vision a reality, and we are well on the way to doing this in the shape of our new hospice which opens in May 2017 in Totteridge, High Wycombe.

Help where it’s needed

But, I hear you ask, why is our hospice different to other institutions? Yes, it may be bigger and more high-tech, but will it really offer something new? I believe it will. While major strides have been made in clinical treatment plans over the past decade, there still remains a severe lack of care for the psychological impact of a terminal diagnosis.

I understand the norm in some places is six to 24 sessions of counselling and then the patient, if needs be, is referred elsewhere. But at our hospice, the arrangement is open-ended.

Sessions at South Bucks Hospice are reviewed every six weeks but the decision on whether to continue is made jointly by patient and therapist. This means patients have the security of knowing they have a service they are familiar with and trust for as long as they need it. And remember, counselling is not only for the patient; it’s for the carer and family, such as the children of the woman who wrote me the letter.

But, I hear you question me again, if we are doing such a good job at the moment, why do we need a new hospice? Our current day hospice in Amersham Road, High Wycombe has been enormously successful, but we need to move to a far bigger building to meet the demands of a growing and rapidly-ageing population.

We are the only palliative day hospice in South Bucks and serve over 320,000 people, a significant number of whom will be over the age of 80 before the end of the decade. We have worked our socks off to raise £3.8million towards our £4.8 target. But just building and moving into the bigger hospice is not enough – we have to be different in the way we treat people nearing the end of their lives.

To my mind, it’s imperative to have a different approach and attitude to addressing questions that need to be asked in order to support people to manage their life and death. Death is a deeply personal journey each individual approaches in a unique way, but far too many are denied final wishes of being allowed to die at home.

South Bucks Hospice enables a patient, who might otherwise need a bed in an institution, to spend their last days in their own home with family and friends, if that is what they want.

Our day hospice allows people to manage their life, and their death, in the way they prefer – and in many cases this is at home with their family. We offer expert palliative rehabilitative care and we are the catalyst for change. All too often, patients and their families leave too much to chance, but our services are proven to help people plan ahead and come to terms with their illnesses.

Space to grow

Our 15,000 square foot new hospice will put all of our services under one roof, and also allow us room to expand capacity. We will also have the space to facilitate young adults (17-28) with life limiting illnesses. By the middle of 2018 we will have over 650 – 800 people a month using our new building.

The powerful benefits of psychotherapeutic support should not be underestimated, as the state of one’s mind and heart conditions everything. The clinical care is vastly more effective on patients who have psychological support, than on those who are wracked with anxiety, or other forms of emotional and mental distress. We should be treating depression and emotional distress as systematically as we do the management of pain, and then we will be treating the whole person.

The sheer scale of numbers of people needing our support requires us to be both courageous and compassionate in helping people to manage relationships, families, planning ahead, spirituality and bereavement.

It must also be stressed that hospices are not all about end-of-life care. We also help seriously-ill people to rebuild their lives and come to terms with life-changing conditions. But our expert staff are also there to help meet challenges in the darkest days.

And, if you don’t believe in my mission, listen to the words of the terminally-ill mother. She asked for her views to be shared openly after her death. Her letter called for ‘a hospice that extends care beyond an hour counselling session after the age of 18…. ‘where worries, events and support can be tracked’ – a place where her children may even grow up with others with shared experiences.

It adds: “…if a hospice had a purpose-built building that a family could access when needed as a family grew and progressed through life, it would save a lot of repeat and wasted time. It would be more efficient.”

Her words, not mine. But this is our vision too now. 

How you can help – contact me on 01494 896560, email or call the team on 01494 537775


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