Last week I visited St Francis Hospice to meet Pam Court and her team for a tour of their facilities.
The hospice is in a lovely location just off the village green at Havering-atte-Bower. Their motto is 'Living with dignity' and they provide a valuable service to residents of Havering, Redbridge, Barking & Dagenham and Brentwood. However whilst the location is restful and pleasant, there are access problems with an infrequent bus service which doesn't run at all on Sundays - and even this service was in danger until Boris intervened with TfL four years ago.
My visit started with the day hospice which provides facilities for outpatients to receive treatment and to socialise with various activities. They have a nice line in scarf painting and customising Christmas decorations which are kindly donated by B & Q. Lunch is also provided. There is space for up to sixteen patients per day.
The Inpatient Unit was recently redecorated and has both single and shared rooms, offering families the option of staying for longer with loved ones. The rooms have patio doors which were opened to take full advantage of the warm weather when I visited. I spoke to several of the patients and they all had high praise for the care they were receiving. If anything some felt that they received more attention than they needed and the high ratio of nurses to patients was something they had not encountered elsewhere.
The visit was rounded off with the new Pepperell Education Centre, a facility that provides training and experience for doctors and nurses including communication training for GPs. Dealing with death is uncomfortable for many people - myself included - and the centre provides information that is difficult to get elsewhere.
I was very impressed by the dedication of the Hospice staff and the way that the patients clearly valued the service. The majority of staff are in fact volunteers - students getting experience, drivers, workers in the network of fund raising shops, even the photographer who took over 60 pictures during my visit. Boris and the Government are keen to encourage volunteering and I have never seen a better example than this.
Last year's Havering Mayor Melvin Wallace, made the Hospice one of his appeal charities and he raised enough to pay for a new mini bus which bears his name. A few years ago I decided to make a regular donation to the hospice to support their activities and I urge everyone to contribute. Details of the work they do and the support they need can be found on their website, www.sfh.org.uk .