Farewell Heather: Twenty years as a Weldmar Community Nurse has been a ‘privilege’
22nd September 2022< BACK TO NEWS
In 2002, Heather Evans took a temporary job as a community palliative care nurse on a six month contract, and has ended up being in the role for almost twenty years.
This month, Heather is retiring from her post as Weldmar Community Nurse Team Lead, and says she has mixed emotions, with lots to think about from her time serving the Weymouth and Portland community, and plenty to look forward to with her growing family.
The Weldmar Community Nursing Team in 2019
Heather’s connection with the charity actually goes back to 1998, when there were three individual organisations – Trimar Christian Hospice in Weymouth, Joseph Weld Hospice in Dorchester and Cancer Care Dorset.
“I first joined the Trimar Christian Hospice,” says Heather, “and I thought it was the best job I’d ever had. I had started nursing in the late 1970s, and it was whilst I was working on a night shift at Westhaven hospital that I saw an advert for a part time staff nurse at Trimar. It was a day hospice, and we used to take people on outings, we had a beach hut, crafts, a bridge club, complementary therapies, and so much more.”
Heather left Trimar almost four years later to take on that six month contract at Cancer Care Dorset, which shortly afterwards joined with Trimar and Joseph Weld to become Weldmar Hospicecare.
Since then, Heather has been serving the community of Weymouth and Portland, and has visited patients in all environments – in their own home, in care homes, caravans, boats and prisons, hotels and hostels. She has braved all weathers and conditions, and recalls busy summers trying to negotiate a sea front full of tourists, and trudging on foot through the snow with colleague Cathy Stone to keep planned appointments. She even made sure she kept appointments when her car broke down on Portland, by walking around the island!
What has changed over the years?
“The biggest change since I started in the community is the technology,” says Heather. “In those days, you would go out armed with paper notes and a pen! If you wanted to find out more about a patient’s medical history, you needed to visit their GP surgery and go through the files. The use of technology and having all that information to hand has transformed the way we work.”
“In those days, it was very much up to your own skill and judgment, but now we have access to medical records, test results, and it makes a huge difference to the quality of care we can provide, especially because patient’s needs have become more complex.”
“The other thing that really has changed are the resources available to us. At the start, Cancer Care Dorset would hold their meetings in Stratton Village Hall, as they only had a very small office, and it was purely a nursing service. Now, we have access to Weldmar’s specialist doctors, physios, occupational therapists, complementary therapists, family support, and so much more. The introduction of Weldmar at Home in the last eighteen months has only added to that.”
Over the years, Heather says she has also seen Weldmar become well known and respected as a local charity, and is much less likely to be referred to as a ‘Macmillan nurse’ these days!
Caroline Sweetland, Director of Clinical Services, says:
“Heather’s dedication to this charity has been nothing short of phenomenal. Through all the periods of change she has kept the patient and their families at the centre of her work. She has provided a sense of calmness and professionalism which will have brought comfort and peace of mind to so many over the years. As a manager she has always been consistent, fair and a strong advocate of community specialist palliative care nursing.
It has been an absolute pleasure to work alongside Heather and I, like many others will greatly miss her.”
What community nursing means to Heather
“The thing I was aware of right at the beginning, and the thing that hasn’t changed at all, is that it is such a privilege to be invited into someone’s home. Even though you are a healthcare professional, you are also a guest, and I don’t think I have ever taken this for granted. People allow you to be part of their life during what will be the last part of their life, and that is very special. It’s also incredibly worthwhile when, at the end of a visit, someone says how much better they feel for knowing they are not alone on this journey.”
“What brought me into palliative care hasn’t changed either. Enabling patients to die with dignity, in a place of their choosing, and allowing them to live as well as they can for as long as they can. To facilitate that and be a part of it is something incredible. You never know what you’ll find when you go into someone’s home, and you have to adapt to make everything you do as person centred as it can be.”
Throughout her time as a community nurse, Heather has been based in the Weymouth and Portland area, and says she can’t walk down any local street without recalling a patient she would have visited nearby. “I continue to meet people whose relatives I have looked after in the past,” Heather recalls, “and they stop to say thank you, or say they remember the care that was given to their loved one.”
Being part of the Weldmar family
Heather says, “I have worked with some wonderful colleagues over the years, and everyone has had that commitment to the cause. They have been incredible and we’ve supported each other. The skill and commitment of every one of the team who see patients day in, day out, means they should be very proud of the work they are doing. I’m leaving the team in very safe hands.”
“To meet the increasing need for our services we have grown the team, and we have a really good mix of skills, which is beneficial for both the patients and for us. Covid was clearly the biggest challenge that we faced during my time here, and everyone had to meet our core value of being Adaptable. The fact that we continued to provide care in the way we did was remarkable. We learnt to use new technology, and we had really good leadership throughout the pandemic. We’ve also taken the positives from that experience and are continuing to work in a much more efficient way.”
Heather can’t quite believe that she has been doing the job she loves for so long.
‘During that time I’ve simply tried to just get on with the job in terms of doing the very best for the patients under my care or latterly supporting my amazing Community Team to do the same, knowing what a difference we can make to all our patients. ‘
“I’ve just got on with the job without making a drama. I see my patients, I ask what do they need, what do they want, what can I do to make it better, and who else do I need to involve … and then follow it through and hopefully make a difference. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last twenty years.”
Weldmar Community Nurse Specialist Cathy Stone says:
“Heather has been an inspiration to so many of us during her years at Weldmar. Her knowledge of palliative care allowed her to give support and advice to colleagues, as well as reassuring patients that they were receiving high standards of specialist care.
The qualities that I think of when I think of Heather professionally are ‘fairness and equity’ – these are at the heart of her decision making and this is what has always made her such a good leader and nurse. She has always brought a sense of calm and you always felt at ease knowing she was at the end of the phone. She has been an incredible teacher and mentor .
Heather has a brilliant sense of humour and we have shared many smiles and laughs over the years. I am going to miss her hugely but I know I will always remember her wise words/calmness as I continue through my career. I wish her all the very best for her well deserved retirement and hope she continues to be proud of the work that we do.”
Lucy Moxham, Weldmar Community Nurse, says:
“Heather has been the most incredible person to work with. She has been a huge support and I am lucky to have had her share her wisdom and experience with me. So many patients have benefited from Heather’s knowledge, care and compassion. She truly is the most amazing nurse.
We will all miss her dearly but wish her the happiest retirement.”