Behind the scenes at Sue Ryder’s Duchess of Kent Hospice in Reading

PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 February 2020

Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice, Reading. (c) Maureen McLean Photography

Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice, Reading. (c) Maureen McLean Photography

Maureen McLean

Sarah Rodi spent an afternoon at Sue Ryder’s Duchess of Kent Hospice in Reading speaking to some of the people that make it the amazing place that it is, from the Deputy Director to volunteers

Volunteer Myra Finch (c) Maureen McLean PhotographyVolunteer Myra Finch (c) Maureen McLean Photography

A hospice might not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about pivotal places in the community, however, for many families, hospices become a source of invaluable care, comfort and support in times of need.

Reading's Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice was rcently rated as 'Outstanding' by the Care Quality Commission and the hospice team invited me to spend some time there to discover what the hospice is like, to dispel the common myths that surround hospices and prove that they are positive places for the people who work there and for the patients.

First of all, I sat down with Deputy Hospice Director Georgie Sullivan, who explained that the hospice provides palliative and end-of-life care in West Berkshire including Reading, Wokingham and Newbury. Their care services include its inpatient unit and palliative care community services, which provides support for people in their own homes, day services and family support team. The hospice offers 15 in-patient beds at any one time and works closely with the Royal Berkshire Hospital, just around the corner.

"I used to be a nurse, but when my mother had palliative care before she died, this side of nursing became more important to me," Georgie says. "And I love working here. The team is so lovely and you feel like you've contributed something special to making the patients' and their families' last days together so special. It's important to make those days count. Our care gives families the chance to go back to being a wife, a child or a mum, when they have perhaps been a carer for some time, and it feels good to be able to give them that. For a brief period of time, we feel like their extended family, and I see that as a privilege."

Ward Manager Danielle Gregory (c) Maureen McLean PhotographyWard Manager Danielle Gregory (c) Maureen McLean Photography

The hospice has a lovely homely feel to it. It's bright and cosy; it doesn't have that clinical feel. And there's flowers dotted around the place, two recreational rooms with a piano, books and games where patients can relax, or where the staff can run training or put on community events. The bedrooms have large windows with views of the pretty gardens that feature a water fountain and you can see the sun shining in the sky. There's en-suite bathrooms in the rooms and space for families to stay.

"We've had some very special moments here - one boy wanted to share opening his GCSE results with his mum so we arranged for him to be able to receive his results early. And we arranged for one man to visit his wife's grave on the day of their anniversary. People often hold on for that special thing," Georgie explains.

In their report, the CQC highlighted how staff treated patients and their families with compassion and kindness, respected their dignity and privacy and went above and beyond expectations to meet individual needs and wishes.

Danielle Gregory has worked at the hospice for 14 years, and has been Ward Manager for the past two. "Every day is different here, which keeps things interesting," she says. "We welcome in new admissions, look after our patients, giving them medical care for the management of their symptoms, and we look after their family members as well.

The team at the Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice, Reading (c) Maureen McLean PhotographyThe team at the Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice, Reading (c) Maureen McLean Photography

"We often come across patients who resonate with us in different ways, and it can be tough when they leave us, but we support each other and do this because we all genuinely love what we do.

"One certain thing that happens to us all is death, and knowing that we have made things better for the people we look after helps us to accept things more easily. We have made their last few days the best they can be for them.You'll be surprised to hear we laugh a lot with our patients. We are also lucky that the staff to patient ratio is good and we can tap into the support Sue Ryder provides, plus we have a wonderful chaplain."

Myra Finch has been volunteering at the hospice for four years. "I make tea, rearrange the flowers, sit and chat to patients or their families - whatever is needed really," she says. "I answer the bell when the patients call - often they just don't want to be on their own so I sit with them for a while. I'm there to listen, fetch and carry and be helpful. I like feeling as if I'm making people's life easier."

Volunteers are at the heart of everything they do at Sue Ryder, and next up, I spoke to Natasha Saunders, the Befriending Coordinator. "Often a patient needs company but doesn't have family or friends to visit them, so my role is to pair them with a volunteer befriender who is happy to spend some time with them. It's company, emotional support and an escape," she says.

"Befrienders often go the extra mile. For example, we have had befrienders take patients to the cinema, Windsor Castle, the rugby, or just offer practical help like running errands. I have so many lovely stories.

"This service also offers a respite to carers, especially if patients can't be left on their own.

"Our volunteers are special people who often have lovely stories to share after forming deep bonds."

One of the recreation rooms (c) Maureen McLean PhotographyOne of the recreation rooms (c) Maureen McLean Photography

Team Leader Sarah Martin always wanted to work here, since her father passed away in the hospice. "I have been here for four years now and have so many wonderful memories of being in this role. My favourite time of year at the hospice is summer, when we can wheel the patients out into the garden on their beds," she says. "I also love Christmas here as we have carol singers and lots of festivities. We have been known to have one or two weddings here too. If you are interested in palliative care, I believe this is the best job you can do. Sue Ryder is an amazing charity to work for."

I am blown away by the level of care this hospice offers for people with lifechanging illnesses and end of life care needs, and the recent 'Outstanding' rating by the Care Quality Commission is testament to this.

Maria Turnbull, Hospice Director at Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice, said: "This brilliant result is thanks to the commitment and hard work of our expert clinical teams and passionate hospice staff and volunteers, who do all they can to be there when it matters for local families.

"We want our 'Outstanding' rating to reassure people with a terminal illness that they will receive the highest quality expert and compassionate care provided by all of our services at Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice.

From the kind smile of Terry Wilkins on the reception desk, to the warm welcome from Georgie, Danielle and the rest of the team, to the aromatic smells wafting from complementary therapy coordinator Linda Turner's treatment room, I left feeling as if I had visited a truly special place.

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