Nurse with a zest for life – and a passion for palliative care

November 24, 2017

A student placement in a hospice ignited a passion for palliative care that has never left nurse Beth Hawkins, who years later has returned to the same hospice as a ward sister.

A placement in a hospice as a student ignited a passion for palliative care that has never left nurse Beth Hawkins.

‘It struck a chord with me, and I knew it was where I wanted to work,’ says Ms Hawkins, who qualified in 1998. ‘Palliative care is what nursing is all about. You are looking at the patient as a whole, addressing all their needs and using all your skills.’

Ms Hawkins’ student placement was at Cransley Hospice in Kettering, Northamptonshire. She returned in 1999, leaving four years later to work in dialysis and haematology and for a community hospice-at-home team, before re-joining the hospice in September in her new role as ward sister. ‘I feel like I’ve come home,’ she says.

With just nine beds, the hospice looks after adults aged 18 and over with life-limiting illnesses, including different types of cancer and long-term degenerative conditions, such as motor neurone disease or dementia.

Services include help to control difficult symptoms, respite support for families, and end of life care. ‘It’s complex case management,’ says Ms Hawkins. ‘Every patient is on a different path in their illness, and we’re also equipping them to live with their disease.’

Cransley and its sister hospice, Cynthia Spencer, are both part of Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which is recruiting specialist palliative care nurses or those with an interest in the field.

Posts are advertised as part of the local Best of Both Worlds campaign, which brings together different healthcare providers to address recruitment needs across the county. Organisations involved include Northampton and Kettering general hospitals, St Andrews Healthcare and Northampton University.

Staff nurse Pauline Mitchell, who joined Cransley Hospice eight months ago, says one of the attractions is the ratio of staff to patients. ‘You can spend more time with the patient and their family, rather than just feeling that you’re doing paperwork all the time,’ she says.

‘When you go home at the end of the day, you feel that you’ve done everything you need to, whereas on a busy hospital ward you often feel you’re passing several things on to the next shift.’

As it’s a small unit, staff have the opportunity to become involved in all aspects of nursing, including personal care, observations, administering medications and supporting patients and their families through difficult circumstances.

‘One of the biggest challenges is seeing patients around my own age, or younger, who have a life-limiting illness,’ says Ms Mitchell. ‘It makes you think about your own life and how fragile things can be.’

Ms Hawkins agrees: ‘It is very sad at times, but if I wasn’t touched emotionally I wouldn’t be doing my job. I cope by having a zest for life, and feel very lucky and privileged to be here.’

Written by Lynne Pearce, orginally published in The Nursing Standard