Where it all began
I first met Dr Richard Lamerton in Nevill Hall Hospital when he came to talk to senior staff of Gwent Health Authority about his desire to expand Hospice of the Marches (which was based in Hereford) down to Abergavenny and Blaenau Gwent. Dr Lamerton was the Medical Director of the Hospice, and had vast experience in Palliative Care.
I was extremely interested in this service and what he had to offer, especially therapists to meet the psychological and emotional needs of patients and families.
In 1990 I had recently lost my husband who was just 42 and who I had nursed at home to the end. The service that Dr Lamerton was offering was certainly very much lacking in Blaenau Gwent at that time and on a personal note I would have given anything to be able to access such a service for my husband and sons.
I was a Nursing Officer for District Nursing in Blaenau Gwent, managing 80 + staff and I had 2 teenage sons living at home.
My husband had been a very fit 39yr old when he was diagnosed with Cancer, and had complex palliative care needs. If I needed specialist advice I’d ring the Oncologist in Velindre and he’d always say ‘bring him down’. I was very grateful to Velindre for such tremendous support but it is a 60 mile round trip and not many families in Blaenau Gwent can afford to take their loved ones down at such short notice.
I learnt so much on a personal note during the time I nursed my husband, I felt that the expertise and empathy I had gained could only help patients who had a potential life limiting diagnosis and offer emotional support to their loved ones.
I met with Richard again and he asked me if I would consider working with him. I took the plunge and started to work for the Hospice in 1991.
I set out visiting every GP practise in the Borough to make them aware of the new service also contacted all agencies such as Social Services, home care, mental health teams and local cottage hospitals to make them aware or the service we could offer their life limited patients. After this referral’s came in thick and fast!
I also needed to try and secure funding so visited everyone and anyone from the Free Mason’s to the Mayor. All of this I did in the evenings in addition to working on patch during the day.
My boys soon learned skills in dealing with distressed patients and relatives who would call my home when I was out on visits (as there were no mobile phones then). They would take messages and pass them onto me when I returned home.
Richard had established a Day Centre at Nevill Hall Hospital, were patients could benefit from all the therapies that were on offer. The benefits were immeasurable but some patients found the full day too long, so I set about looking for venues to start drop-in clinics which were closer to home and only in the mornings.
In 1992 I had my first office in Tredegar with a phone and answer machine! Nothing else but I was excited. The only drawback was there was no toilet, but not to worry there were public toilets across the road.
The Hospice grew from strength to strength and I needed more nurses in Blaenau Gwent. It also became apparent that we needed additional resources in other areas to meet our patients and their family’s needs. These included benefits advise for those who were too ill to keep working and also bereavement support for families. As the number of referrals increased so did our drop- in clinics, I could monitor far more patients in one setting than have to travel around every home, but to hold these clinics I needed volunteers. I started off with my sister and sister-in-law supporting the Tredegar clinic, making tea and cake. The aim was to make patients feel welcome and comfortable. Richard and I attended each session along with at least 2 therapists and the Social Worker each session.
As time went on and money became more available I was able to appoint more staff. I started up more drop-in clinics, the next was in Abertillery, another of my sisters lived there, so she was my next volunteer! Ebbw Vale, then Blaina followed, each clinic being nurse led with support from local volunteers.
As time went on our staff compliment grew, roles changed and progress continued, but our principle aim on serving our patients didn’t falter. Nurses had to keep up their expertise and I was keen for them to attend the advanced Palliative Care course in Oxford University which I attended for many years. New drugs were emerging for pain and symptom management and we wanted the best for our patients.
In 1999 we finally changed the name to Hospice of the Valleys and had a new home with plenty of rooms in Morgan Street, Tredegar. Neil Kinnock MP who was also our Patron visited his home town of Tredegar to do us the honours. We appointed more admin staff and held our Trustees meeting in Tredegar at long last. Things moved on quickly from this point.
Each year I sent 2 volunteers or staff to the Queen’s garden party as a thank you for their long service. From 3 members of my family as the only volunteers to start it soon crept up to the hundreds – an army of such reliable un-paid hero’s.
In 2005 we were nominated for the Great Britain IMPACT Award for innovated practice. And we won!! I was absolutely thrilled, every member of my staff had helped me achieve this award I thanked them all and said how grateful we were to them. This was the same year that Wales won the Grand slam in rugby a year I’ll never forget!
In the Queens New Year Honours list in 2007 I was awarded an MBE, for Services to Health Care – an honour I graciously received on behalf of myself and all my team.
Staff at the hospice were special. We all had the same aim to provide holistic support to anyone diagnosed with a life- threatening illness. Every member of staff would go above and beyond their pay grade to enable the service to survive.
I always felt if I got things right the service would go on without me and so in 2010 I made the difficult decision to retire. The Hospice continued to grow and develop to meet the ever increasing demand from the local community. And I am so incredibly proud of the service I helped create and the service that exists today to support people within our local community at a time when they need it the most.