Jackie Husband: How a hospice can help you to die well

Staff and volunteers at St Columbas Hospice celebrate 40 years of care and support offered to the people of Edinburgh and the Lothians.
Staff and volunteers at St Columbas Hospice celebrate 40 years of care and support offered to the people of Edinburgh and the Lothians.
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This year marks 40 incredible years of care and ­support offered to the ­people of Edinburgh and the ­Lothians by St Columba’s Hospice.

Although the Hospice first opened its doors in 1977, work had been underway for some time to make the dream of opening a modern, ­independent facility in Edinburgh a reality.

Jackie Husband, Chief Executive, St. Columba's Hospice, Boswall Road, Edinburgh.

Jackie Husband, Chief Executive, St. Columba's Hospice, Boswall Road, Edinburgh.

The first meeting of the founding pioneers of St Columba’s Hospice took place in 1968. For the next nine years this important group of ­committed, dedicated and visionary individuals worked tirelessly to open our doors to families from across Edinburgh and the Lothians.

The principle at the heart of what we do at St Columba’s Hospice – to offer excellent palliative care and support to local people – has stood the test of time and is as important now as it was 40 years ago.

The staff, volunteers and supporters involved with the Hospice are all here to ensure that people who are reaching the end of their lives do so with the care that is right for them, giving them choices and supporting not only the individual, but also their loved ones.

Contrary to what many people believe, hospices can be truly ­uplifting places. Patients have told us they are lucky to be here and that they are grateful to have been given the opportunity to come to the ­Hospice.

When you have a terminal illness, life can come into sharp focus and every moment becomes precious, treasured and celebrated. Time with family, friends and loved ones in a relaxed, safe and dignified setting is incredibly important. Alongside expert care and attention, our team at St Columba’s Hospice know how important the things we all too often take for granted are.

Getting your hair done at our 
on-site hairdresser, a visit from a therapy pet, a coffee and cake with family in our beautiful café, or ­simply time in our wonderful gardens ­overlooking the Forth – each of these, and many more similar experiences, take on new significance and make time at our hospice as much about living as about dying.

We’re not good at talking about dying in our society, and yet it’s ­something each of us will face. Not only is it something we’ll all experience, it’s something that most of us have questions and fears about.

Dying, like living, can be done well – a challenging concept to consider at first, but a principle that is at the very heart of the hospice movement.

To die well, and to live well with a ­terminal condition, should be the right of each and every member of our community. Our services are ­given for free, which is made ­possible by the wonderful, ongoing ­fundraising activities and gifts of our supporters.

St Columba’s Hospice has come a long way in 40 years. Our Centre for Education and Research opened in 1986, recognising the vital role we play in training and educating healthcare professionals in palliative care excellence.

We welcome medical students and practitioners, helping them understand what outstanding, person-centred care looks like in a hospice and community setting. Our home in Granton, Edinburgh overlooks the Forth across to Fife, and our incredible building ­celebrates all that is best about ground-breaking hospice care.

Our care is not just delivered in the building. We also have a team of ­specialist nurses who support ­people in their own homes and in other ­community-based settings, working closely with GPs and other health and social care providers to help people to live as they choose. At the core of St Columba’s Hospice are the staff and volunteers who, just as in 1977, still ensure that first class care and attention to each and every person as an individual is central to our services.

Hospices are not just places for the elderly. We often welcome younger people into the Hospice, with ­anyone from 16 upwards receiving support.

Forty years is an important milestone to mark. Yet, whilst we remember the support we have been able to provide, and the inspiring individuals who had the vision to build the first modern hospice in Scotland, we also take time to consider all those in our community who need our care, some of whom will also be turning 40 this year.

Jackie Husband is Chief Executive of St Columba’s Hospice.