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.’