Buckfast Abbey; where the hospice's Quiet Days take place (Image courtesy of Buckfast Abbey)
A lot of people question why we choose to work at a hospice, and how it is that we do what we do. Not because our work is unappreciated or undervalued, but because hospices can be regarded as dark, difficult places. Rowcroft, we can assure you, is anything but.
Kelly Taylor, a Staff Nurse who has been here for six months, says she loves working here because among the difficult work she does there is also laughter. But it is true that caring for more than 1800 patients with life-limiting illnesses every year, and providing support for their family, friends, loved ones and carers, is challenging. The hospice has a number of support mechanisms in place for its staff, whether they work directly or indirectly with patients, and the following is an insight into just a few of them.
Giles Charnaud, our CEO, recently asked us all why we choose to work here and the response he had from people across the organisation was the same - because we want to make a difference. It is that determination, together with the support we receive, that inspires us to continue doing what we do.
Remembering and reflecting
Staff and volunteers meet for weekly Remembering and Reflecting (RAR) sessions in Rowcroft's Chapel every Tuesday. A candle is lit and the names of patients who were cared for at the hospice and recently passed away are read out by Rowcroft's Chaplain Gill Still or Loretta McHugh, a former member of the Inpatient Unit Social Work Team.
This safe, protected time is an opportunity for staff and volunteers throughout Rowcroft to reflect on their experiences with individual patients and their loved ones. Loretta, who regularly leads the sessions, explains: "By giving this time, we enable staff to release their emotions away from the ongoing pressures of the Inpatient Unit". Gill adds: "The RAR sessions are a peaceful time for staff to remember the people we have cared for and many staff members describe themselves as feeling freer following a session."
The value of mindfulness practise has been recognised and is now used in a variety of settings such as hospices, hospitals, businesses and, more recently, in the Houses of Parliament. Put simply, mindfulness is about understanding what we are experiencing when we are experiencing it. A moment of mindfulness gives us space to pause, recognise how we might be about to react to a situation and then choose how to respond to it. The practise helps to develop steadiness and resilience in the face of changing circumstances and situations. Complementary Therapy Coordinator, Julie Milton, is running courses for staff to develop this skill.
Julie hopes that encouraging resilience will enable staff to maintain the invaluable service they provide, and take care of themselves in the process. As well as being available to staff, an eight week course for patients and carers will take place later in the year, and a course has also been offered to people experiencing bereavement.
Held several times a year at Buckfast Abbey, the hospice's Quiet Days are a chance for staff to think about themselves as individuals, and what makes them happy. Each Quiet Day includes advice on how to manage stress and anxiety, and the opportunity to attend relaxation and mindfulness sessions. Staff members who attend can choose to spend the day however they wish, some like to sit and walk alone in the grounds of the Abbey, while others like to talk about their worries and anxieties.
Gerry Gillespie, who provides support for staff at the hospice and leads the Quiet Days with Julie Milton, explains: "We look at how and why people get stressed and look at ways of managing and coping with that."
All staff members who attend the Quiet Days are asked to complete a feedback form detailing how the day has benefited them and their work. One staff member who attended a recent Quiet Day commented, 'Mine happened to be at the end of a particularly difficult week. It helped me manage my feelings, acknowledge the kindness and support of my colleagues and carry on with an extraordinary week.'