"This week found me sitting beside my sister’s sick bed at a hospice in the south of Scotland. According to its website, the Ayrshire Hospice “provides outstanding quality care and services which helps those with any life-limiting illness. Care is provided where there is no cure for the condition, but which improves the quality of each day for people who have a limited time to live….. “ this is my first exposure to such a facility and I am overwhelmed mostly because I have discovered an organisation that truly lives up to its mission statement and. for that matter, everything else.

I am experiencing a great model of a business. I purposely do not use the term ‘business model’ because this refers to how a company intends to make profits but the hospice is a charitable organisation and exists for another reason.

Notwithstanding, it has purpose, direction, structure, customer service and passion and its entire operation demonstrates the bringing together of all of these components which gives life to the maxim ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

Generally speaking, people who are dying need care in four areas (physical comfort, emotional needs, spatial issues and practical tasks) and the hospice excels at all of these. While this is a place where people come to die, paradoxically it feels more like a hotel than a hospital. They have recreated the territory completely and when the context changes, so does the experience.

When a visitor signs in at the reception area they are registered not by a surly security guard but a smiling and caring volunteer who also will also call a taxi for you when you leave. The rooms (which would be wards in a hospital) are bright and airy, done in soft pastel colours; an extra personal touch is the whiteboard near each bed with the heading ‘What matters to you’, for patients to post cards, memorabilia notes etc. Lounges for visitors have coffee and snack machines, complimentary cakes and light refreshments which, if you want to indulge in, you can contribute through a donations tin – by the way the millionaire’s shortbread is to die for (and no that’s not intended as a poor-taste pun though humour also has its place here) and second in deliciousness only to the strawberry tart – I have had my fair share of both.

I have always asserted that you can only get really good customer service by employing people who ‘get-it’ and this hospice has nailed this. As this is my second trip in a fortnight, I have seen shifts of workers come and go and regardless of this continuous change, the care and professionalism never falters. And this service is not just reserved for patients as there is almost as much attention given to visiting family and friends as that which is lavished on patients. No request is too much whether they want an ice cream cone or to be wheeled outside for a fag; there is no judgement, no sigh of protest just a let-us-know-what-we-can-do-for-you-attitude. Since we have been here we have had counsellors and doctors give us individual and group feedback in small Zen room where patients and families can “spend quiet reflective time”, or if they prefer, they can stroll the gardens. For people visiting from afar or spending nights at the hospice there is a fully contained cottage to use so that one can shower or catch a few hours of shut eye during the day.

"The doctors know when they give us feedback and stroke my sister’s arm with genuine care – it’s all about her, without forgetting about us. No sign of staff rushed off their feet.  I have witnessed nursing and care delivered at its best and I am in inspired".

The hospice is a charity staffed by volunteers and payroll staff a far cry from the broken and spent National Health Service which my sister was subjected to before she got to this comparative Utopia. So she gets this truly world-class care experience which we would never have been able to provide at home. With an operating cost of ₤20K a day, providing this service doesn’t come cheap but of course we don’t pay anything at all as this is all courtesy of some state aid and money from benefactors.

I know that very few people get palliative care, especially to this standard, but as a close family member nears her death I am realising that care at this level is an essential part of medical care at the end of life. A peaceful death might mean something different to different people: For some they may want to know when death is near so they can have a few last words with the people they love and take care of personal affairs: Perhaps you want to die quickly and not linger: Perhaps you would like to be at home when others want to be in a hospital where they can receive treatment for an illness until the very end: Some people want to be surrounded by family and friends; others want to be alone. Of course, often one doesn’t get to choose. But, avoiding suffering, having your end-of-life wishes followed, and being treated with respect while dying are common hopes.

My sister may well have passed by the time that this goes to print but what a beautiful passage I have witnessed for her.

"It is what she wanted – every wish taken care of and every need met and her dignity intact. I shall be forever in awe of the people who make this work their passion and the difference they make to the world and those leaving it".

By Stuart Loader