Health: Life of the frontline of end-of-life care

Nursing team leader Faye Whale spending time with a patient at Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice, in Headingley. Picture by Tony Johnson.
Nursing team leader Faye Whale spending time with a patient at Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice, in Headingley. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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Nursing the sick takes compassion, but what about when the battle back to full health is a losing one?

Fear and misconceptions surround hospice care where terminally ill inpatients come to spend the remainder of their days supported by nurses.

The pivotal role nursing plays in helping those with incurable diseases is not to be underestimated but those initial nerves at what life in a hospice is really like aren’t just limited to the patients.

Having studied media production at Liverpool John Moores University and landed a job at Liverpool-based Mersey Television, the last thing on Faye Whale’s mind was working in palliative care.

But the realities of TV work left her unfulfilled, prompting a “mid-20s crisis” that took her into holistic therapies such as aromatherapy and acupuncture, hospital nursing and then end-of-life care.

“I always wanted to work in palliative care when I was a student as to my knowledge it was a place that holistic care was really holistic and there was much more thought about the whole person and their family,” the 37-year-old said.

“I initially thought I wasn’t ready psychologically but I wish I came earlier. I, like many people, thought ‘I don’t know about working there, I’ll need a strong constitution to deal with all this bereavement’.”

After eight years of study and work as a hospital and district nurse, the Wakefield resident bit the bullet and applied for a job at Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice, in Headingley, which will celebrate Nurses’ Day tomorrow. Now, 18 months on, she is leading a team of nurses in caring for terminally ill residents in a way that is as personal as it is caring.

Faye said: “We are people looking after people. I don’t think about my patients as ‘bed 11’, we address people by their names and that’s a big thing about hospice care.

“I like to think of myself as helping people to feel they are heard and listened to and that’s one of the privileges of being a nurse. You are privileged to share the story with someone about that part of their life.”

The facility, which hosts 18 inpatient beds and runs a day centre, has a grand entrance, marble staircase and floral garden that would befit a fine hotel. There are woodland scenes on the walls, calming fish tanks and a natural quiet.

The environment and one-to-one care is a real lifeline to those living at Wheatfields. Hazel Atkinson, from Otley, was brought to the hospice around a fortnight ago fighting for her life as she battles secondary cancer. She recovered and celebrated her 64th birthday at the hospice with a special cake.

“I feel human and cared for and valued,” she said. “Everybody does a great job, the nurses especially. They come and check on you every night and they keep you safe.”


International Nurses’ Day is marked every year on May 12 – the birth date of iconic battlefield nurse Florence Nightingale.

The commemorative day marks the contribution of nurses all over the world every year, with celebrations led by the International Council of Nurses.

The work done by nurses at Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice will be marked as part of the event tomorrow.

Visit www.sueryder.org/nurserecruitment for more about getting into nursing.