Kath Hutchinson began working for St Andrew's in 1987 and has subsequently seen massive changes in both the hospice environment and patient care. We catch up with the night shift nurse to find out more ...
There are perhaps a handful of volunteers and staff who can say that they have seen more than three decades of transformation at St Andrew's Hospice, and registered nurse Kath Hutchinson is one of them.
Opening its doors in early 1980, St Andrew's first welcomed people every Sunday to the Kent Street Molson Centre, before the charity purchased an old Scartho farmhouse, in 1984. Three years later, and after much alteration, the demand for an in-patient unit became apparent and, after further renovation, the unit opened in the autumn of 1987.
A mother to two young girls, Kath had taken a break from nursing to be with her children. With the little ones now well established in school, Kath was on the lookout for a nursing position to fit around her family.
“It was my uncle, Harold Stanhope, who suggested that I apply to the hospice. He was instrumental in the start of the organisation at the Molson Centre,” Kath explained.
“I had my interview with Sister-in-Charge Dorothy Looby and got the job, though work at The Beeches could be a bit hit and miss at the time – there was no rota, we were just told when we were supposed to be there. In a way, it was almost like we were bank staff.
“It wasn't very clinical at the unit, either; more of a home from home. With the bedrooms upstairs, it was almost like you were in a house rather than a nursing environment, or hospice. We also wore our own clothes until we asked the patients if they would mind us wearing uniforms; they didn't, so we began wearing them – it did look a lot more professional.”
Although there was a hospice doctor, most of the in-patients remained under the care of their own GPs, unlike today's St Andrew's, which has a medical director. Kath also described how the patients of the day usually had motor neurone disease or cancer, where today's patients often have other diagnoses, such as COPD.
She continued: “After the hospice moved to Peaks Lane, The Beeches became a hotel and restaurant. We were all invited to take a look and had canapes and a tour of the refurbished bedrooms. It was lovely but very strange, after almost a decade of working there.
“The new hospice building was amazing. It wasn't purpose built, like the buildings that came later, and was renovated from the old Courtaulds Club, but it was 'wow'! Everything was on the ground floor, which made life a lot easier, but the people were mostly the same and it was a happy place to work – it still is.”
In addition to the change of environment, with building moves, extensions and the growth of St Andrew's as a whole, one of the biggest differences Kath has noticed is the children's unit, which celebrated its 18th birthday this year.
“Since it opened, with advances in medicine and technology, we are able to care for the children at the hospice for longer periods of time,” Kath said. “This has meant that we are starting to see some young people make the transition from the children's unit to the adult unit.”
Kath also notes that things that were right in the nursing profession, and therefore the hospice, 30 years ago aren't necessarily right today, so the ongoing training provided at St Andrew's is invaluable.
She said: “When I started work here, the hospice was about making a person comfortable at the end of their life. Today, the hospice is holistic; it is about supporting not only the patient but also the family. It is about mental wellbeing, not just the physical. It is about symptom control and respite, and enjoying life as much as possible until the end. For some this can be weeks and for others, years. The hospice has had to adapt to these changes and, in my opinion, is has done it well.”
Now almost 72-years-old, Kath works two night shifts each week and will continue to do so as long as she remains “sharp and fit”.
“It isn't just about being able to do the job physically, you have to have the mental capacity to do it as well, and if I ever in doubt that then I will retire!” Kath said. “Of course, I couldn't do the work without the team and the support we all give one another.
“I have always maintained that I am the luckiest person in the world, to do the job I do. Yes, there are sad times, and I can often suddenly wonder in the early hours of the morning how a family is doing after a death, but doing what we do is a privilege.”
Talking about the 40th anniversary year, Kath finished: “I can't believe how the years have flown – where has that gone? How far we have come ...”