Our Hospice Carol Concert took place on 3 December at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich. Hospice Chief Executive, Kate Heaps’ keynote address paid homage to the hard work and dedication of everyone who has been involved in the work of the Hospice over the last two, challenging years and the changing role of the Hospice in the community.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and thank you very much for joining us this evening – both in person and at home.

May I take this opportunity to thank all of our readers, the girl guides, the wonderful Trinity Laban Choir and all of the staff at the ORNC Chapel including Reverend Mann who has been so supportive of the hospice over all of her years here.

For those of you who receive our regular Hospice mailings you will have seen that this year, the theme of our Christmas Appeal is ‘Your Christmas of Choice’. This service, here in these amazing surroundings, is now part of a well-established personal tradition in my Christmas of Choice, and it is nice to be back here in person with you all, despite the uncertainty of what this Christmas will bring and after a year last year which was probably not the Christmas many of us would have chosen. I’m pleased to say that one of our other long held family traditions of playing a recording of me, aged 4 singing Christmas Carols has now withered away!

It’s been an exhausting two years for everyone involved in the work of the Hospice and I really couldn’t be more proud of all we have achieved as a team, pulling together through some really difficult times, adapting our approach to care and to all the things that happen in the background to make our care and support possible. What’s so incredible is that despite their own personal challenges – my team always keep our patients and the community that we serve in Greenwich and Bexley at the centre of all they do.
Over the last year, we have seen a 20% increase in need for our support, that is 3,000 people cared for this year.

This Christmas our Hospice will have 750 people under our care, all living with a terminal illness, most of whom living in the comfort of their own homes, hopefully reassured that they are able to contact our committed and skilled team around the clock if they need our support. On Christmas Day, our nurses and doctors will be working 24 hours on our inpatient unit. Our carers and community clinical nurse specialists will be visiting people at home to attend to their personal care needs, manage pain and other difficult symptoms and provide emotional support, continuing this support right through the night if emergencies arise. And for the first time, our hospital team will be working every day throughout the long weekend to attend to people who are unfortunate enough to be in hospital, supporting them and the staff who are caring for them with end of life care, symptom management and discharge planning. The pandemic has not just resulted in a growth of numbers of patients for our Hospice, but also an increase in the complexity of need that we are seeing. We have all, to some extent felt the emotional impact of repeated lockdowns and disruption to our way of life, and unfortunately, many of our patients have had delays to treatment as well as suffering significant socio- economic challenges. This has meant we’ve grown our team, for example we now have an additional social worker to help people deal with housing and financial issues, as well as responding to tricky issues such as guardianship, safeguarding concerns and immigration concerns. Wherever we look, there’s a new thing to learn or a new need to respond to, but we continue to rise to the challenge, adapting and putting our expertise and compassion to good use wherever it is required.

So what is this ‘Christmas of choice’? Choice is such a weird concept for me, particularly when we apply it to decisions we make at the end of life. Choice is always presented in such a positive way and yet, often it’s a question of what’s the least bad or least risky option. In the circumstances that many of our patients face as well as in the context of these difficult times, it is quite hard to see how they or indeed anyone can achieve our Christmas of Choice.

I know some of you will be facing a difficult ‘first Christmas’. Yesterday, I was talking to someone who has a long association with the hospice who has unfortunately been recently bereaved following the death of her lovely husband, I’ll call her Clare.

This certainly won’t be Clare’s ‘Christmas of Choice’ however I was pleased to hear that she is anticipating the difficulties she is likely to encounter and planning for how she will manage her day along with her family who are thankfully there to support her through it. Making the most of the time we have, planning for the future and thinking about contingencies is a big part of what our team do with all of our patients, that is when we, or rather they, have that luxury to be able to think about the future and explore the options.

When people are given the news that they have a terminal diagnosis, they often feel that all choice and control has been taken away. Our job is to help them understand that they do still have some control and that we are here to listen to them and learn ‘what’s matters to you’, not ‘what’s the matter with you?’ All of our staff, from volunteer Compassionate Neighbours to Palliative Medicine Consultants skilfully navigate these difficult conversations to focus on what CAN be achieved for each person. That sometimes requires us to help them stand up to a family member who thinks a patient is making an unwise decision to go home, or it may be us working with an estranged partner to ensure that the patient can get some quality time with their child before they die. This Christmas, we will be working with some of our patients and their families to ensure there is food on the table and presents under the tree, we might be helping a patient arrange transport and care elsewhere so they can be with their family, or we might be popping in to give care and drop off a hot lunch for someone who is choosing to spend Christmas on their own. Whatever it is, I know that our team will continue to strive for the best with compassion and care, so that each person we support feels special, loved and human.

I remain grateful and proud to lead our organisation, and thankful for all of our community and your generosity, in making our hospice such a precious asset for all who need it. There will be a retiring collection so please be generous, or those of you at home, you can donate through our website. Thank you once again for joining us this evening and please have a Merry Christmas and a Peaceful and healthy New Year.

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