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'Milk colleagues dry with questions'

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We talk to Penny Hansford, director of nursing at St Christopher’s Hospice, London, who qualified as a nurse in 1980.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

After leaving school, I had a gap year when I met a family whose mother had died at St Christopher’s. This family were overwhelmed by the wonderful care that their mother and they received. I decided I wanted to be part of an organisation delivering such good care.

Where did you train?

King’s College Hospital.

What was your first job?

Staff nurse on a medical ward then I went on to do midwifery and later became a health visitor.

Whom have you learnt most from in your nursing career?

In end-of-life care, your skill set has to incorporate medicine and social work. The most difficult part is supporting families with complex needs. I learnt the skills of working with individuals, couples and families from two outstanding social workers – Elizabeth Earnshaw-Smith and Barbara Monroe.

What advice would you give someone starting out?

Find good role models and attach yourself to them. Milk colleagues dry with questions.

What keeps you awake?

My eight-year-old daughter who keeps creeping into my bed at night despite a star chart.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

When I see the clinical teams at St Christopher’s really pull it out of the bag in difficult circumstances. We had a young woman with an epidural who wanted to get home to die. We put together a team to manage any issues to do with her epidural that might occur at home and ran sessions with Lewisham community nurses. This was all achieved within 24 hours. The patient got home where she died two days later.

Your proudest achievement?

At work – seeing the delivery of a high-quality 24-hour visiting service to 850 people dying at home with the back-up of hospice beds. At home – being mum to my two gorgeous girls.

What do you think will change nursing in the next decade?

I fear for nursing being a graduate-entry profession. We have lost so much of the apprenticeship aspect.

What job would you have if you hadn’t been a nurse?

I rather fancied being the manager of an orchestra.

If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?

I would put teams of healthcare assistants to work with district nurses and deliver personal care to those who are dying. In London, care is usually given by agency social carers who do not understand the rapidly changing circumstances of many dying people and are not linked to district and nursing teams.

What would your ideal weekend involve?

Sun, sea, family and friends. Lobster on the barbeque with a bottle of Meursault Premier Cru.

If you could spend an hour in someone’s company, who would it be and why?

An evening with researcher and fertility expert Lord Robert Winston and business guru Sir Gerry Robinson would be “food for thought”.


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