People who come to Francis House are often struck by the homely and relaxed atmosphere, where chats on the comfortable sofas in the lounge or around the large circular dining table are common place.
For members of the care team being able to spend quality time with the children and young people who are reaching the end of their lives or talking to the parents and families, is a vital part of the support provided.
Clinical Lead at the children’s hospice Natalie Hands is to retire after a twenty five year career in nursing at the hospice that serves the north west of England.
She said: “My whole experience here has been one of discovery. There are many tasks and nursing procedures to be carried out, but within a shift there will be opportunities where you’ll just sit and read a story to a child or play a game.”
Natalie from Stockport, joined Francis House when there were only four other children’s hospices in the UK in 1991.
“It was just amazing, a lovely homely setting with carpets and matching curtains and all about the care of the whole family - ‘wow’ was probably a word we said a lot.”
Seven children’s bedrooms and seven double family bedrooms give the parents a well-earned rest.
Working alongside families has been a real highlight.
After comforting a young girl who awoke one night, Natalie discovered from the child’s mother the next day that she had held her in exactly the same way that she did.
"Understanding that respite would also be provided for the families really appealed to me."
“In hospital that just wouldn’t have happened as there wouldn’t have been anybody there with the time to do that. There was real job satisfaction in that the parents trusted us enough to go and get a good night’s sleep,” she said.
The children that came to Francis House in those early days had life-limiting conditions that are still found today, but their life expectancy was shorter. Medical interventions including gastrostomies and tracheostomies can now help with swallowing and breathing problems and the children are surviving for longer.
Whilst caring for the four year-old sister of one of the first children to die at Francis House, Natalie developed an interest in bereavement support, in particular support for the siblings.
“The Mum and Dad were understandably absorbed with the child who was dying, and I could see what it was taking out of them. I spent time playing with her little sister, listening to her it opened my eyes to what it must be like for the siblings.”
Many years later at a Memory Day, the family came back. Now a teenager, the sister shared her precious memories and the pair talked for hours.
The ‘Shining Stars’ bereaved siblings support group was set up by Natalie and a group of colleagues in 2000.
“Working with bereaved brothers and sisters and helping them to understand grief at a level appropriate for their age and giving them the tools to help deal with their bereavement is so important for their future lives.”
In 1991 Natalie met HRH Diana Princess of Wales when she opened Francis House, and decades later the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the 25th anniversary celebrations to mark the official opening of Francis Lodge.
“It’s been lovely to be here to see Francis Lodge develop. I’ve worked with remarkable colleagues and met extraordinary families, there will always be part of Francis House in my heart.”
* Francis House is seeking nurses to join the care team, to find out more visit the Staff page at www.francishouse.org.uk
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