Highland Hospice expands services in Caithness

2nd October 2015

With the recent appointment of Dr Gordon Linklater as the new Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Highland Hospice has expanded the range of care services available to patients in the county. 

Dr Linklater was appointed in December 2014 and over the last nine months he has been working closely with health professionals directly involved in patient care in Caithness. He has attended practice palliative care meetings, delivered teaching and support for staff and has seen patients referred for specialist advice in their own homes, Caithness General Hospital and Dunbar Hospital in Thurso.  It is hoped this increased engagement within Caithness will result in increased awareness of Hospice services, and improved access for patients and staff to specialist palliative advice when and where needed.

This recent development is on the back of many years of active engagement by Hospice staff and volunteers in Caithness. The charity’s two shops in Thurso and Wick have both been open for over 20 years and a dedicated team of volunteers have helped to raise essential funds for the Highland charity. 

In 2010 the Hospice opened a Day Therapy Service in the county.  Running every other Wednesday in Thurso, this service is available to patients referred by their GP, and offers those attending the chance to meet others experiencing something similar. Located in the North Highland Cancer Information and Support Centre on Thurso High Street above the Cancer Research UK shop, the sessions run by Highland Hospice can help patients in a variety of ways.  The Centre provides a welcoming and well-appointed space in which both group activities and individual treatments are co-ordinated.

Sessions run from 11.30 until 2.30pm, and begin with a relaxed chat over tea, coffee and cake in the bright and comfortable lounge area. Palliative care/cardiac support nurse Mary Richard attends every session and gets to know everyone who comes along. Mary is joined by another member of the team from Highland Hospice, and together they organise a different activity for each pre-lunch session, ranging from art or crafts to physiotherapy and much more. A light lunch is available for everyone in the cosy dining area at no charge, where there is also a wide selection of helpful reading material available to take away.  Mike Rattenbury (Highland Hospice Chaplain) and other specialists from the Hospice also attend the Day Therapy sessions periodically and can provide one-to-one discussions.

Anyone attending for the first time will meet Mary and another Hospice specialist to have a private discussion about their individual needs, and how the Day Therapy Service might be able to help. Often just seeing around the modern and comfortable premises is of great help in dispelling concerns about the type of environment the sessions are held in. The Centre can be accessed discretely by steps from Wilson Street or by wheelchair ramp from the pedestrianised High Street.

Highland Hospice also offers counselling support to people in bereavement at the Support centre.  This service is open to anybody who has been bereaved by the death of a relative or friend cared for by Highland Hospice or by other specialist nurses involved in palliative care.  The Outreach Counsellor, Ann Craig, offers one to one counselling appointments, meeting people at the Support Centre on alternative Wednesdays to the Day Therapy sessions. Appointments can also be by telephone or skype and, generally last up to an hour.  Counselling is confidential and whilst referral to the counselling service can be made through a GP or other health care professional, people are welcome to make contact themselves by contacting the Clinical Secretary on 01463 227901 or email at clinsec@highlandhospice.orguk.

Thurso locals will also know of the Highland Hospice charity shop on Princes Street, described by Shop Supervisor Susan Lafferty as an Aladdin’s Cave. Open Monday to Saturday every week, Susan has a team of more than 16 loyal volunteers who help to sort through the very generous donations of goods that arrive daily. The shop also has some very loyal, even daily customers. Whilst clothes and bric-a-brac sell well in the shop, Susan lets her network of contacts know about any unusual items through Facebook. The Thurso shop has also notched up a record-breaking sales year, to April 2015, and looks set to grow the revenue again this current financial year.

Over in Wick, on the corner of the High Street, Chris Henderson can be found welcoming customers into the Highland Hospice shop that she supervises. The large shop is situated on a bright corner and has, according to Chris, the best organised selection of paperbacks in the town. Chris says that besides books, ladieswear is the bestseller, and her customers love nothing more than a good bargain. Chris also plays a significant role in organising catering and volunteer support for the Wick Memorial Service each May, and the Light Up the Highlands Christmas Carol Service each December.

The Wick Memorial Service has been running for 15 years, and is held annually at the Baptist Church on the last Saturday in May. Relatives of patients in Caithness who have had some contact with Highland Hospice over the previous year are invited to attend, along with many others who come along each year.  The format is a mixture of hymns, some secular poems, a bible reading, and an act of remembrance which people are invited to take part in.  In recent years there has been a ‘pool of water’ at the front to which people are invited to come forward to and select a pebble to throw into the pool in remembrance (which they can later retrieve as a keepsake if they wish). There is also an illustrated children’s story included in the service.  The aim is to have something accessible to all ages and shades of belief (or none).  The service lasts for just over half-an-hour.  There are then refreshments in the hall to help people unwind and meet others, supported by local volunteers.  Ann Craig and Mike Rattenbury travel from Inverness to lead the service typically attended by over 40 people, staff and volunteers.

Caithness provides a range of opportunities for people to support or be supported by Highland Hospice, and the fact that most of these have been available for more than 20 years is quite remarkable. With even more to offer Caithness than before, the charity hopes to continue the long and respected relationship it has with volunteers, healthcare professionals and patients alike.

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