After 10 years at North London Hospice – four years as Nursing Director & six as CEO – and over 30 years in palliative care, Pam McClinton retired in August. Here she looks back at a decade at the forefront of the provision of end-of-life care in North London.
When I look back at the last 10 years, the over-riding achievement is that we are supporting more patients than ever before. At present that’s over 900 people at any one point in time, and more than 3,500 patients a year overall.
When I started working in palliative care in the late eighties as a community Macmillan Nurse the driver for me was the realisation of the difference good end-of-life care could make to patients and their loved ones. I still feel this passion as I leave over 30 years later.
NLH serves the communities of Barnet, Enfield & Haringey and throughout a decade when the need for palliative care has never been greater we have expanded our specialist community services that provide care at home, grown our ward capacity to 18 beds, introduced 24-hour support and our First Contact Service, built a curriculum of training courses to educate both our staff and local healthcare providers and developed a state of the art Health & Wellbeing Centre, whose services both enrich and support the lives of our patients and their families.
I’ve been an advocate of the Compassionate Neighbours programme, which connects trained volunteers with people in their community who are reaching the end of their life through age or illness. Whether it’s for a cup of tea or a lift to an appointment, these volunteers help people avoid social isolation and I am proud we have trained 150 of them to date.
It’s fair to say that none of us will ever forget 2020. It’s been the most physically and emotionally challenging year I can remember. But like so many other healthcare providers, our doctors and nurses, social workers, bereavement support staff and all those that work hard to deliver our services, rose to the greatest of challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic. We faced difficulties with PPE, changes in face-to-face care provision and severe restrictions on access to our ward and home visits to protect patients and staff, which was immensely difficult for all.
We, as an organisation owe a huge debt of gratitude not only to our frontline workers, but to our community, who supported us once the pandemic took hold in March. Donations of PPE, food supplies and financial contributions flooded in when we asked for it, and it’s heartening to see people are still giving what they can.
The pandemic has provided a steep learning curve for us all. The hospice has become more adaptable and nimble and begun to see communication technology as a friend. Patients used iPads to stay in touch with loved ones and consultations and some wellbeing services were able to take place online thanks to the power of Zoom. Technology can never replace being at a bedside or holding someone’s hand as they reach the end of their life but it can help us stay in touch and ‘be there’ even if we cannot physically be there.
There are still challenges to come. As a charity it costs £13 million a year to run North London Hospice, and it relies on its community to raise £9 million of that cost. The hospice’s spring and summer events programme was cancelled but new ways for people to show their support are emerging, many NLH shops have reopened and events that enable annual much-loved fundraisers to resume, but differently, are providing some income.
A Fond Farewell
I will miss being part of North London Hospice, what it stands for and the people that I have had the privilege to work with over the years. The importance and significance of good palliative care has been with me throughout my nursing career and it has been an honour to be a part of the history of NLH and to continue its fundamental purpose to improve and enhance the quality of life for those it supports.