Strathcarron Hospice staff detail huge changes as it marks 40 years spent caring for community

The work of Strathcarron Hospice has always been treasured by patients, families and the public over the years.

By Jonathon Reilly
Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 2:41 pm
Updated Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 3:32 pm

From its doctors, nurses and therapists to those who run the administration, maintenance and catering side of things, the support the palliative care facility provides will never be taken for granted.

On Wednesday, employees and volunteers at the Fankerton service celebrated its 40th anniversary – yet the people who will take as much, if not more, joy in seeing Strathcarron reach the milestone are undoubtedly all those who have benefitted from its first-class care.

The coronavirus crisis has proven just how vital the hospice is.

Strathcarron Hospice staff are celebrating the service's 40th birthday. Picture: Scotdrone.

Caring for 1400 patients annually, Strathcarron drastically began altering its services at the onset of the pandemic to ensure no-one slipped through the net as Scotland was plunged into lockdown.

Renowned for their person-centred approach, staff were asked to play a leading part in developing local and national palliative care coronavirus guidelines.

Speaking as part of The Falkirk Herald’s Support Our Strathcarron campaign, Dr Gill Foster, a consultant in palliative medicine, said: “We really value and are grateful for being part of such a strong, multi-disciplinary team.

“We’ve all looked out for each other. Everyone’s role has been valued; whether in clinical, catering, domestic, family services, admin, maintenance or reception, everybody has had such a vital role to play.

Dr Gill Foster, palliative medicine consultant, is immensely proud of the work of all those at Strathcarron Hospice. Picture: Michael Gillen.

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“It’s been emotionally tough at times. One of the key things was we had to question how we provided care to keep patients, staff and families safe and still provide that support.

“We used other ways of communicating, whether it was video or telephone conferencing because many people were concerned about leaving their homes and dropping into any other care setting.

“We’ve been seeing more people in the community, where it’s been safe to do so.

Strathcarron Hospice staff have become renowned over the years for the high-quality care they provide in Forth Valley and beyond. Picture: Michael Gillen.

“We’re involved in the training of doctors in palliative medicine and the educational training of community nurses in care homes.

“We’ve also been part of a system with local and national organisations and contributed to new guidelines that had to be developed for palliative care and the end of life for people sadly dying of Covid.

“My colleague is part of a support network for staff at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, another has been involved in national bereavement guidelines and I was involved in how we supported local care homes.”

Daycare manager Mandy Malcomson is also full of admiration for the entire hospice team.

Strathcarron Hospice daycare manager Mandy Malcomson. Picture: Michael Gillen.

The enormous shift in how staff operate now compared to early 2020 is evidenced by her unit.

In spite of the changes, its nurses, complementary therapists, craft facilitators and volunteers are still supporting those living at home with a life-limiting illness.

Ms Malcomson explained: “We’re trying to support people to live independently and as well as they possibly can, despite having an illness.

“Up until Covid hit, we were seeing about 100 people-per-week who were coming into the hospice as a group of 20 every day.

“We’ve had to turn things on their head and design a brand new service. We had to close our physical door because people couldn’t be together.

“We designed a system of telephone support initially, finding out how patients were doing, what support they had and what they’d need.

“For those who wanted to have face-to-face contact, we set up Zoom sessions and invited people able to use computers to connect with us again and did relaxation sessions with a complementary therapist.

“During the year, some of that group have died and we’ve been there for their carers because we know these people really well.

“It’s that connection. We want people to know the hospice is there for anything they might have a question about.”

As it became harder to contact GPs at the height of the first coronavirus wave, Strathcarron’s daycare team also acted as a go-between to offer their expertise.

The service is known for the rapport staff develop with those in their care – and no pandemic or lockdown will come between Strathcarron and its patients, says Ms Malcomson.

Having worked there since 2008, she regards her job as a “privilege” and said: “Myself and my team just get so much out of that connection and relationship we build up with people.

“We’re there for really difficult conversations. Sometimes people don’t want to talk to their family about future care and what it looks like if they approach the end of their life so they come to us.

“At one stage the focus was on cancer. During the time I’ve been there, that’s changed.

“We’ve realised there are so many people in different groups who’ll need palliative care but don’t have a cancer diagnosis; for example, people with advanced COPD and motor neurone disease.

“We’re there to answer questions and give practical and emotional support. It’s about managing uncertainty because people need to know what the future will look like.”

Speak to anyone at Strathcarron and it’s clear the personal touch is what matters most.

For Dr Foster, who’s been with the facility for almost 23 years, one message in particular stands out.

The quote came from English nurse and physician Dame Cicely Saunders, who said: “You matter because you are you and you matter to the last moment of your life.”

Dr Foster said: “As a team, that resonates and really says what we’re trying to do.

“The thing that remains constant is our overall philosophy. We must also remember our fundraising team and all those people who have supported us. We certainly appreciate it.”

Likewise, Ms Malcomson believes there’s an immense value to the connection between nurse and patient.

She said: “People need to know their life is still meaningful.

“The hospice is there for any stage of a journey: if people have declining health, it could be a family member, someone who’s interested in the services we offer. Just get in touch.”

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