Philippa Heath, from Chapel-en-le-Frith, became a Hospice at Home healthcare assistant in March 2017 after deciding to apply because of her passion for ‘people to have the choice and the option to die at home.’

Here, she explains more…

‘My husband sadly died two years earlier; it was his preference to be at home until the end and this was made possible with the dedication of the district nurses, and of course family and friends. Hospice at Home was not available then but I could see the huge benefits to patients and families that it would bring.

‘I enjoy every aspect of my job and see it as a privilege to be able to be part of a patient’s journey towards the end of life. As well as personal care, we are there to help with general day-to-day tasks and sometimes to just be a listening ear. We often sit with patients to allow their carers, usually a spouse or other family members, to get some respite. Each person has his or her own personal needs so it is a varied and challenging role.

‘It is paramount for everyone to benefit from good end of life care. Every single person matters and whilst we are caring for them, they are still living their best life possible. We can ensure that personal needs are met to avoid unnecessary discomfort and that dignity is maintained throughout. We can be the eyes for the district nurses and doctors, and so report any issues as soon as anything becomes known. We offer support in whatever way is needed. Many families feel lost or overwhelmed, and to be able to offer the kind of help and support that Hospice at Home does is just incredible, usually when families are exhausted, scared and in emotional turmoil.

‘I’ve been with patients on just two occasions at the actual time of death and arrived at one house very soon after. On a practical basis, I have called for a doctor to certify death, contacted the funeral directors, and helped to wash and dress the deceased. On the more emotional side, just giving the family space, understanding, staying calm and of course making tea. Sometimes just being there is worth its weight in gold. I truly believe that we make a huge difference to every single person we sit with. Being with a lady while she died just before midnight one evening really sticks in my mind. I held her hand, talked to her and was able to let the family know that she was not alone in her final moments and that it was a peaceful. This is something each family can take great comfort from.

‘I hope that Hospice at Home can continue to grow. We are so lucky to have this service in the High Peak and I feel privileged to work for Blythe House. Being able to die at home provides so much comfort to the patient, surrounded by people and things that they love.’

Sheila Darcy qualified as a nurse specialising in mental health in 1976, beginning her career at Cheadle Royal Hospital. The self-confessed night owl undertook different roles covering mental health, accident and emergency, Alzheimer’s and acute services, at local hospitals including Stepping Hill and Manchester Royal Infirmary.

The Disley resident found out about Blythe House’s Hospice at Home service and called Ruth Brown, the service manager, to find out more. Ruth explained that there were opportunities available, and Sheila became a night-time healthcare assistant for the 24/7 service in April 2016.

Sheila explained: ‘My dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was nine, and he was nursed at home by my mum for three years before he died when I was 12. I have been involved with patients who are dying, or who have died, throughout my career including caring for anxious or upset families. The Hospice at Home healthcare assistant role just seemed to fit perfectly with my previous experience.

‘I have always worked in hospital settings, so adjusting to a community role and visiting people’s homes was strange at first but wow; it is an absolute privilege to do this job. Families really want you to be there; you can be the person to watch over the patient and gently nudge a loved one or family member to say: “Their breathing has deteriorated, would you like to come in and sit with them?” Sometimes they are so frightened; but just being there you can help to support them through very sad times.

‘One evening I arrived at a patient’s home and I knew that the person sadly didn’t have long left. I said to the family: “Let’s sit together and hold hands” and we gathered around the patient’s bed whilst the family shared stories and anecdotes. The patient died not long after but it was so comforting to know the family shared precious moments beforehand.

‘Someone died recently who I had been spending two nights per week with since April – I was very, very close to her, and it is so sad when someone you care for does die. The day we stop being upset that our patients have died is the day we stop doing this role.

‘Working through the night with patients is so precious because it is such a vulnerable time and I am always resourceful with crosswords, knitting or reading. One night, in the run up to Christmas last year, a patient asked me if we could sing some carols. I sat on her bed and we were singing Good King Wenceslas when she suddenly stopped breathing. I went to wake her husband and said I am so sorry but she died so suddenly – he said: “Don’t worry, because she died, doing exactly what she loved – singing!”’

‘I have never worked anywhere before where people make you feel so welcome. You really hope you’re going to make a difference, and you are so very appreciated by patients and their families.’