Karen Blaker has been a Registered Nurse at St Wilfrid’s Hospice for 18 years. She has kindly shared her story of her time at the hopsice and her memories of moving from the original hospice building in Mill Gap Road to the new site in Broadwater Way.

It was like it was meant to be

‘I started my role as a Registered Nurse at St Wilfrid’s in 2002. I hadn’t worked in palliative care before working at the hospice – I originally trained at the Eastbourne General District Hospital for three years, followed by three years on the Orthopaedics ward, before moving to The Chaseley Trust nursing home, where I worked for 10 years.

‘The job vacancy came up around the same time my uncle had become unwell with cancer. He often spoke about how brilliant the Nurses were at his local hospice in Manchester. It was like it was meant to be.

‘Mill Gap Road was so homely and cosy; I loved it there. I was overwhelmed by how friendly and positive everyone was and how peaceful the environment was. It was a completely different world to my previous jobs.

‘I soon learnt that excellent communication was vital to this role and I continue to learn from my colleagues everyday.'


The big move

‘We then moved to Broadwater Way in 2013. So much planning went into achieving this and there were a lot of changes: we converted from 10 patients to 20, we changed from written notes to a new computer system, Nurse-led beds and the 24/7 Nurse Line were introduced and all departments expanded to enable us to care for more patients in our community, resulting in more staff.

‘The first thing I noticed about the new building was how much space and light there was. It was overwhelming at first, almost like going into a new job. It wasn’t an easy transition because I missed the old building terribly after spending the last 11 years there.

‘Taking on Nurse-led patients was a much bigger responsibility and it improved my skills and confidence. We care for patients, both young and old, with life limiting, complex conditions. We treat everyone holistically, supporting their physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological needs and we also support their family and friends.

‘The role is emotional. We see a patient’s joy when they hug their grandchild or feed the birds in the garden and we also see the despair, sadness and depression. We have to adapt many times a day to support these emotions, but we have a great team who will always support each other.’


The biggest challenge in my career

‘In March 2020 came the most difficult time in our careers: the coronavirus pandemic. Nursing as we knew it suddenly changed and we had to adapt to new ways of working. It was a scary and confusing time for everyone; the fear of contracting the virus and passing it on to colleagues, patients or your family was huge.

‘Wearing PPE has made communication more difficult at a time when we need it the most. It makes you realise how much physical contact and communication you would usually have with a patient.

‘Nevertheless, the support from our colleagues and the community has been amazing and is very much appreciated. We’ve learnt a lot from this; we can appreciate our hard work and all that we’ve done and come out stronger for it.’


It’s important to smile and laugh

‘My favourite thing about the hospice is the fun and laughter that it brings. Our work can be sad at times, but it’s important to smile and laugh. We’re all human and have our own emotions to deal with, so it’s vital to be supported and everyone helps each other out.

‘I enjoy being part of the wider community too, when participating in events like the Starlight Stroll and Lights of Love.

‘One particular memory I have is from the day before a Lights of Love event in Mill Gap Road, when the Christmas tree was outside. There was a big storm the night before and all of the doves blew off the tree! A group of us had to go out and get them all back – they were stuck in trees and all sorts. Each one meant a lot to a family so we had to make sure we found them all. It wasn’t funny at the time, but it is when you look back on it.

‘I have been privileged to get to know so many inspirational people and listen to their life stories. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else!’