Read an interview with outgoing chief executive Alison Carlisle...

The outgoing chief executive of St Andrew’s Hospice has paid tribute to the "inspirational and brave" people she's met during her career.

Alison Carlisle has been a nurse for 35 years and at the helm of the hospice for 20 years, guiding it through many changes and developments, including the opening of a new state-of-the-art building in Peaks Lane, Grimsby, last year.

Michelle Rollinson will officially become the hospice's new chief executive from April 1.

Alison said: “I’ve had a wonderful journey with St Andrew’s but after 30 years, I feel now is the right time to start handing over the baton. It’s been a privilege and an honour to be part of an organisation at the very heart of the community.”

Alison left her role as Acting Sister at Louth Hospital to join St Andrew’s as a staff nurse in June 1987, six months after the hospice first began caring for patients overnight. She was one of the first members of staff to have a full-time contract, and palliative care was still a relatively new concept.

“It was a new service,” Alison explained. “Not only was I getting to know the professionals, I was also getting to know Grimsby and we were pulling a new team together. It was lovely being there at the beginning of something. Day care already existed but beds for patients was a new thing entirely. It was great being part of that evolution.

“Some people were sceptical, so we had to build a reputation, too. Palliative care only came about in the 1960s, so the people who originally pushed the drive to get Grimsby a hospice were inspirational. There were only a small number of hospices in the UK at the time, and now there are 200-plus, so we really were at the cutting edge.

“I learned a lot, and at the beginning of 1989, I became Nursing Team Leader/Nursing Director, and then chief executive 20 years ago. My background gave me an advantage, I think. When you come up from the floor, it can help and give a rounded view.

“To me, hospices always have and always will be about good patient care. I came into nursing because I like to care for people, and it was like a family. I have tried to never lose sight of that – everything we do is to improve the lives of the people and families who use our services, here at the hospice.

“St Andrew’s is about being alongside the patient and their family or friends, enabling them to live as full a life as possible. They are in charge – we use our clinical skills to control their symptoms. If they want their pet dog to sleep on their bed at night, then the dog stays at the hospice. It can be as extreme as doing a skydive or something as simple as providing the space for them to sit quietly… it’s all about whatever their wishes are.

“We only have one chance at things. We put a lot of effort into getting it right when we come into the world, and we only have one chance to get it right when we are leaving the world, whenever that may be.”

Down the years, Alison has supported and then led the hospice’s development, which has transformed from an adult-only day care facility for people with cancer and Motor Neurone Disease only and annual running costs of £18,000, to a 24-hour-a-day service for anyone of any age, with any life-limiting illness. Now it costs £4-million a year to run both the adult and children’s services, and only 16 per cent of that is provided by the NHS; the rest is raised through donations. About 120 staff are supported by its biggest workforce, 500 volunteers of all ages, who work across all areas.

“When we moved from our home at The Beeches, in Scartho, to Peaks Lane, we’d never thought of having a children’s hospice,” she said. “But there was a need and the community was so supportive. It took just two years from having the initial thought to the unit, called Andy’s, opening, which is incredible.

“Meanwhile, the building we had moved into was eventually going to become unsuitable for us. Many will remember it as the former Courtaulds social club, and basically we fitted into what already existed, because we couldn’t afford to knock it down. In 2007, the fact it would soon be not fit for purpose and the desire to continue providing more services saw us plan for the future – a new build on the same site. We saved hard and, thanks to the support of the public, work began in 2014 to construct the purpose-built hospice Grimsby has today, and it officially opened last year. We spent 20 years in the old building, so I’m sure we can double that now. St Andrew’s has experienced significant changes and improvements, and it’s all because generous people continue to put their hands in their pockets. We are so lucky.

“We do need to be a business to survive. There’s much competition compared to even just a few years ago and it comes from all over; even many statutory services are run by charities now, and that competition is very brisk. If we did not have a business model, we wouldn’t be here now. ‘Business’ can sometimes be a dirty word but the core of what we do is caring, and that will never change, and charities must be able to compete.”

Alison has also experienced changes such as medical advances, increasing life expectancy and regulation. She has been a specialist Care Quality Commission inspector for two years.

“When I started out, the regulatory framework wasn’t as robust but now the framework exists - It’s all about protecting the patient,” she explained. “Also, hospice care is now about anyone with any life-limiting illness, which is very different to three decades ago. About 25 per cent of the people we look after do not have cancer. Medical advances have been amazing. I used to know patients for a short length of time, while now its years more, and children we care for are living far into adulthood. With those things come support issues, of course, and that’s what we are here for – support. In the early 1990s, for example, I became a HIV/Aids specialist when there was still stigma surrounding the illnesses. I pushed the hospice board to agree for us to look after those patients.

“North East Lincolnshire has so much to be proud of. When you look around, we have a great community and we are very forward-thinking, not just at the hospice but across the area. We are fortunate to have one of the best hospice buildings in the country and we are innovative. Sometimes I go to meetings and think, ‘we’ve been doing that for years’, and that’s always heartening. St Andrew’s works because it’s a collaborative, between the staff, volunteers and the community; we all pull together. There are always things to improve, and we strive for that.”

Alison, 53, has been married to Pat for 23 years, whom she met a fortnight after starting her job at St Andrew’s. They have a son, Wes, and live in the Lincolnshire Wolds with their dog Bodie and chickens. She’s originally from the Scunthorpe area and hospitalisation in her teens made her want to become a nurse. She qualified while also running her own business, a grocery and newsagents, in North Somercotes.

“The hospice has been my life’s work and I feel honoured to have been a part of it,” she said. “I still have a lot of enthusiasm and passion but after 30 years at St Andrew’s, it feels like the right time to pass on the baton. The incoming chief executive will have such an exciting time and has a wonderful canvas on which to develop services even more for the area. The first manager was in charge for 10 years and I’ve been at the helm for 20, so I hope the new person can clock 30!”

Alison will leave St Andrew’s at the end of 2017, once a new chief executive is in place. She added: “I’ve had a wonderful journey and my future is exciting, although unknown at the moment. The main thing I will take away with me is the impact of the patients and families I have met over the years. I can still remember the names of those who have changed me. They have taught me so much about life, and they are so inspirational and brave. Each and every one are individuals, with their own stories, and I will carry that with me.”

 

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