You simply can’t put a price on giving dignity to the dying

The Dougie Mac is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

The Dougie Mac is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

It’s the place you only really come to appreciate when someone close to you is dying. A place which, if truth be told, many people in these parts are still more than a little afraid of.

The Douglas Macmillan Hospice, or the Dougie Mac as most of us know it, has been part of the fabric of life in the Potteries for as long as many of us can remember.

What began in 1973 as a terminal care home has grown exponentially over the last four decades to become a centre of excellence for palliative care.

What started with a £50,000 grant to the North Staffordshire Committee of the National Society for Cancer Relief has morphed into an organisation with an annual income requirement of £9.2 million.

Remarkably, £5 million of that comes from members of the public through donations, fund-raising events, lottery ticket sales, charity shop purchases and legacies.

All that money pays for services including a day therapy unit, respite care, specialist family lodges and the community nursing teams who provide invaluable care for people wishing to remain in their own homes.

People like my auntie Jean. People you will know.

Yet despite its staff of more than 250, its constantly-evolving site at Blurton, its 900-plus volunteers and its multi-million budget, the Dougie Mac has somehow managed to remain what it began as – an organisation which is by the community, for the community.

It exists because the NHS, wonderful as it is, makes no real provision for end-of-life care.

Focused as it quite rightly is on delivering children safely into the world and treating the sick, there is precious little thought and even less money given to those whose life’s journey is coming to an end.

That’s why places such as the Douglas Macmillan Hospice exist.

When the NHS can do no more and families have nowhere else to turn that’s where the Dougie Mac comes in.

When someone learns they are dying they, and their relatives, experience a whole range of emotions from fear and sadness to anger and even guilt.

At the Dougie Mac, no-one sits in judgement and no-one claims to have all the answers.

But the staff there – from the cleaners, kitchen staff and maintenance men to the reception staff, the nurses and the doctors – are entirely focused on helping those with life-limiting illnesses, and their loved ones, find value in the time they have left.

Given the nature of a hospice, you’d be forgiven, perhaps, for thinking that the Dougie Mac, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this week, is a sad place. You’d be wrong.

Walking around, as I’ve had the privilege of doing in recent weeks, you’d be amazed at how friendly and welcoming everyone is and by how content the patients and visitors are.

It’s no coincidence that the terminally-ill, anxious and frightened when arriving at the Blurton hospice for the first time, often relax once they come through the doors.

“This is where I want to die,” is a sentence that more than a few staff and relatives have heard down the years – such is the effect that this place has on people.

The work done at Dougie Mac, the care given by its expert staff, is a gift so precious that many feel the need to say thank you.

People like ‘Tin Can Man’ John Leese MBE, who sadly passed away last week.

John, who I had the pleasure of interviewing a while back, raised more than £350,000 for the hospice in memory of his late wife Olwen who had been cared for by the staff at the Dougie Mac.

When he came on stage to receive his Editor’s Special Award at The Sentinel’s Our Heroes awards night, he said to me that he hadn’t done it for the praise.

It seems to me that, like than man who rattled his tin can for years for the charity he loved, no-one associated with the Blurton hospice ever does it for a pat on the back.

They do it because they are so grateful that when they and their loved ones are at their lowest ebb there is a local organisation, funded by local people to pick up the pieces.

What the Dougie Mac and its near neighbour the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice do is give dignity to the dying.

They make every moment count by relieving pain and suffering, creating memories and giving those left behind a reason to go on.

We’re rightly proud of our hospices because you simply can’t put a price on the services they provide.

Happy birthday, Dougie Mac, and thanks for everything.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

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Proud legacy that keeps on giving after 40 years

Sign pointing motorists to the Dougie Mac hospice.

There is a place in Blurton which is very close to the hearts of the people of North Staffordshire.

It’s a sprawling site, much of which isn’t visible as you drive past, and it may not look much from the outside.

However, looks can be deceptive and inside this very special place people find the strength, hope and courage to face the very worst that life can throw at them.

I am, of course, talking about the Douglas Macmillan Hospice which this year celebrates four decades of caring for people with life-limiting illnesses.

It is no exaggeration to say that most people in our neck of the woods know someone who has benefited from the ‘Dougie Mac’ – as it is known locally.

I’m no exception. My auntie Jean received invaluable support from the community nursing team during her final days.

Without the hospice, it is almost impossible to imagine just how many people with terminal illnesses, and their relatives, would cope.

This is the thought which perhaps spurred the pioneers back in the early 1970s who worked tirelessly to create what was the termed a ‘terminal care home’ here in the Potteries.

It was in 1969 that the North Staffordshire committee of the National Society for Cancer Relief (NSCR) received a grant of £50,000 to help create the Douglas Macmillan Home which was to be used exclusively for cancer patients.

A public fund-raising appeal was then launched with the aim of raising £330,000 in 10 years.

Thanks to the generosity of individuals, businesses and local authorities, the target was reached in just four years.

On January 2, 1973, the first in-patient was admitted to the home (the name hospice was introduced some years later).

As it has today, the in-patient unit had 28 beds – although, back then, each cost £7.20 per day. Patients were initially admitted for the remainder of the lives – whether that be a few days, several months or, as happened with one resident, 14 years.

When the home opened nursing staff consisted of five sisters, one staff nurse, two enrolled nurses and 15 nursing auxiliaries.

It’s a far cry from the Dougie Mac of today which boasts more than 250 full and part-time staff – including 50 people working out in the community – and more than 800 volunteers.

Over the years the home became a hospice which diversified so that it no longer focused its services solely on cancer patients.

From one main group of buildings which included the in-patient unit, a chapel and mortuary, the hospice has grown exponentially across the site.

The 1980s were a period of huge expansion for Dougie Mac, as summed up by Lynne Johnson who was the cook in charge when she joined in 1984.

She recalled: “During my 12 years of service I saw the hospice develop from a small, homely place to a centre of excellence – still holding on to the friendly atmosphere which attracted me initially.”

During the Eighties:
Bereavement care was introduced (1980)
Care in the community began (1983)
The day care unit became operational (1985)

A summerhouse was donated for the garden and the first ‘Light up a life’ Christmas tree service was held in 1989. This was also the year the hospice purchased its first computer which was used by the finance department.

Over the years a Community Nurse Specialist Team (PCNS), a Hospice at Home service and an Education Centre have all been added.

These are now all supported by a full range of clinical support services which include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, lymphoedema, chaplaincy, bereavement support, social work, psychology and diversional therapies.

As Dougie Mac celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, there’s no doubt its founders would be proud of their legacy which just keeps on giving to the people of North Staffordshire.

*The Sentinel will be publishing a special supplement to mark the Dougie Mac’s 40th anniversary in its editions on Tuesday, February 5.