“I started working for Ashgate Hospicecare as a healthcare assistant on the Inpatient Unit right from the beginning, in 1988. We had a date that we were supposed to open in early September, but we didn’t open for two weeks because we didn’t have any beds or carpets! We had carpets everywhere in the first few years, even in the bays!
Before 1988, I worked here in what is now the Harry Fisher building. Back then it was called the Ashgate Annex, a convalescent hospital where patients would come from Chesterfield Royal Hospital for periods of time after an operation, broken bones or skin problems,such as ulcerated legs which were very common back then.
I’ve always enjoyed working in a place where together we can ensure that patients die with dignity and where we can support their friends and family too. So, when I heard that the Hospice was going to open, I thought that this was the place for me and I’ve worked here ever since!
Lots of things have changed. Mostly, the size of the building and the number of people working here, and the way it is run has totally changed. We used to be a small hospice with an Inpatient Unit of only 14 beds. We used to take in patients to give respite to their families and carers and we also had patients that came in over Christmas and Boxing Day because they had no family or friends with whom they could spend the festive period. When it first opened, the matron on the Inpatient Unit had a vision of meals being served on trays with little flowers and posh serviettes.
We still have that same ethos today, of giving patients the best possible care, but we do a lot more now than we have ever been able to do. The most important thing for me is that I am still able to take the time to listen and talk to patients. I’m really proud to work here mostly because there are so many different services we can offer to our patients and their families. There are many patients that stick in your mind and that’s what the job is about.
Within our first six months, we opened a Day Hospice to extend our care. We had a few volunteers helping in there and in the Inpatient Unit, and we had one volunteer fundraiser. We now have over 700 volunteers in total! The Hospice at Home service followed a couple of years later. This enabled us to care for patients at home and invite them to our Day Hospice, whereas in the beginning they would have been admitted to the Inpatient Unit.
Ashgate Hospicecare grew slowly over the years to introduce other departments like Occupational Therapy, Lymphoedema, Physiotherapy, Supportive Care for families and so on.One of the biggest changes was the extension in 2005; the whole Hospice doubled in size which meant double the fundraising! We needed to employ more nursing staff, more housekeepers, more cooks – the lot!
There was a major change in the way our Fundraising Teams operated, which came a few years ago and has made a huge difference to the amount we can now raise. In the 1980s, hospices like ours received around 85% of funds from the government and now it’s less than 30%. However, we run on a much bigger scale now and have got to put a lot more effort in to raise the money to keep going and to keep updating our services.
To me, the care we give is still as excellent as it was 30 years ago. Medicine has moved on so much and patients now have more complex illnesses, so Ashgate Hospicecare has had to keep adapting to this. We are specialists in palliative care and we have plans to update the Inpatient Unit to accommodate the new specialist equipment we now use. The bathrooms have just been refurbished and we have plans to make the reception area look more homely too – we want to move away from a clinical feel.
I have lots of special memories of Ashgate Hospicecare and there are some patients that stick in your mind. Right at the beginning, I remember a patient who died and his wife was absolutely distraught. I remember her asking me if she could lie next to him on his bed after he passed away and she was there for quite a while. She wrote a beautiful letter to me and I will never ever forget it. I’ve kept it all these years.
More recently, I witnessed the wedding of a patient. Dr Sarah Parnacott went out of her way to get the registrar here as soon as possible as the patient was quite unwell. Sarah bought a cake and the Fundraising Team called a local wedding shop who immediately lent us chairs and flowers to make the conservatory look nice and the event itself was a tear jerker. This is not the first wedding we’ve had at the Hospice. We’ve also had a couple of christenings, lots of wedding anniversaries and birthday celebrations. It shows a different side of the Hospice than what people sometimes expect and also illustrates how all the departments often come together to make something special happen.
One of the most extraordinary things about working at Ashgate Hospicecare is how many of the staff are remembered by the families of patients for years to come. We had a patient whose husband who was visiting her when we asked her one morning whether she would like a bath, a shower or a bed bath. The husband replied that she would love a bath as she had not been able to have one in hospital and would love to have her hair washed. She was unable to get out of bed to stand or climb into a bath. Because of the equipment we have at the Hospice, it is possible to take a patient to the bathroom on her bed, then use our hoist system to lift them into the bath.
We bathed and washed this patient, taking the time to moisturize her skin, dry her hair and return her to her room happy, although tired. This lady died a few weeks later and her husband asked us if we could put some earrings in. He had bought her these are earrings for her birthday but she had not worn them yet. We did as requested and the husband was very pleased.Four years later, the healthcare assistant who was with me that day was on holiday and was approached by a gentleman who said, “You are the lady who bathed my wife and put her earrings in. It meant so much to me.” This is something we did without thinking about it, but to be recognised four years later, not in this country, and without our uniforms on, shows how much we make a difference to others.”