‘It’s a tough job, but the patients make it easy for us’

A team of six dedicated Hospice Home-Care Sisters also work at the Foyle Hospice, covering different areas of the city with up to twenty patients each at times.

Una Gavin is one such Sister and spoke of the work the collective Home Care Sisters do within the community.

“We Home-Care Sisters work alongside the GPs in caring for those with illnesses and end-stage illnesses,” Una reveals.

“It’s all about dignity. We help with symptom control and we advise GP’s about particular patients if necessary. We work with families, we don’t dictate to them, they tell us what they need. And despite what people think, it’s not all cancer patients we see, but it is a tough job.”

An indication of just how busy these Sisters can be is the fact that 3,807 patients were visited at home last year, with 1,579 phonecalls to patients and a further 2,747 phonecalls to families. These specialist palliative care nurses also made 445 home bereavement visits to homes throughout the North West last year.

However, Una and her Home Care colleagues are always delighted to see patients thriving and doing well.

“We discharge people too, if we sort them out and then think they are doing well enough, we take them off the books. People want to live. It’s important you let them do so and step back if necessary.

“We also try to change the image that this is all about dying,” Una continues. “Our work is about symptom control and just making people feel better and getting them back living again. It’s not all doom and gloom, you know, sometimes it’s great craic getting to know people and I think families often appreciate that.”

Importantly, when a patient does pass away, their family remain in the care of the hospice for some time to come.

“Families are never forgotten about after someone dies, and we do bereavement visits and continue to support families when we can. There’s also a bereavement support group here that we then run twice a year and bereaved families are invited back to that, if they want to.

“Ideally, we like to stay involved with the family for about a year afterwards and then, if we’re still concerned about them, we ask if they’d like to be referred on to the likes of Cruse Bereavement Care or someone else who might help them further.”

Acknowledging the harsh realities of caring for those with life-limiting illnesses, Una spoke of her next appointment that afternoon. “I’m now on my way to the home of a young woman who just passed away and I’ll find that very difficult, seeing her family and her children again. That’s very hard. She was a great lady. I always say that these people are better people than I’ll ever be.”

It goes without saying that working so closely with patients can leave an impression on most. “I certainly do take my work home with me, but I do a lot of running,” Una admits.

“Running is my outlet, you need something because you don’t switch off, your day goes home with you and so it’s important to have a release. It’s a tough job, but they make it easy for us – the patients makes it easy.”