May Shurmer Banner (1)
May Shurmer Banner (1)

Conducting an Orchestra: How ellenor’s Living Well Team Caters to all Aspects of a Patient’s Health

Twenty years on, May Shurmer can still recall exactly how she felt as she walked through our doors for the first time.

“It’s difficult to describe – it’s just such a happy, welcoming place. When I came for my interview, and felt ellenor’s warmth for the first time, I remember thinking ‘this is a place I’m meant to be – this is a place I want to nurse’”.

Senior Staff Nurse May’s career at ellenor started on the inpatient ward (IPW). There, May was able to exercise her love of palliative care; supporting patients at the end of their lives with her intuitive bedside manner and knack for putting families at ease.

Now, May works with the Living Well team – an arm of ellenor dedicated to helping people with life-limiting conditions, well…live! 

“The focus here has always been much more about quality – rather than quantity – of life. We try to encourage them to get out and about; to get on with life. It’s not about focussing on the illness and the diagnosis. It’s much more about what your plans are, and what you’re doing; how family life is.”

Typically, the patients May works with have a long-term illness that – while not necessarily life-ending – will still impact on their physical, mental, or social capabilities. These conditions can include Motor Neurone Disease (MND), Parkinson’s, COPD, Cancer, or heart disease.

“We don’t focus on the disability, but the ability. What can you do? What would you like to do better, and how can we get you there? We help them to believe in themselves”.

Part of the Living Well’s team remit, then, is to help these patients set goals. These run the gamut from the heart-warming – fulfilling a lifelong wish to marry a sweetheart, for instance – to the humble. For some patients, the forms that goal-setting may take can be as simple as shopping independently, or as sweet as meeting up with a loved one each week for coffee.

To achieve this type of ‘holistic care’ – a term which reflects our commitment to helping all aspects of a patient’s needs, be they emotional, spiritual, social, or psychological – May works with a wide variety of teams.

Internally, these include the doctors and nurses on our Inpatient Ward, as well as our comprehensive Hospice at Home team, which provides palliative care directly from the homes of its patients in the local community. May’s Living Well team also collaborates with physiotherapists, complementary therapists, and counsellors – to name but a few.

Externally, the Living Well team has extensive relationships with GPs, social services, and consultants, as well as local referral units.

“I always say that ellenor is like the orchestra – or that we’re the conductor. We bring things together for people, people who haven’t always had that kind of support: be it social services, occupational therapy, or financial support. Everybody has different needs, but it’s about being able to pull all those strings together, and at a pace that works for each patient and their family.

“One of the most important things we do for our patients is listening to them – really listening to them. Their needs can change quite rapidly, so it’s vital to understand exactly what they need."

"It can be anything; from family relationships, to not coping at home. It’s all about listening, adapting what you’re doing for them, and – at the same time – encouraging them to continue living.”

For the Living Well team, then, the impetus is very much on life – but that doesn’t involve leaving death out of the conversation altogether.

“Quality of life includes broaching those open, honest conversations about preparing for death,” says May. “They’re rarely easy, but they’re always important. However much time they might have left, a patient has the right to prepare themselves for death. It’s our job to help them through that, and walk alongside each patient and their family – to prepare them for that journey.”

Perhaps some of May’s empathy for – and skill with – patients’ families come from the fact that once, she belonged to one. ellenor supported May’s father-in-law during “the best last two weeks of his life” before he died there.

“It was strange for me trying to be the daughter-in-law, and not the nurse – but my colleagues took great care of me, and allowed me to do that. I was able to be on the other side, and get the very best care for my family.”

So what does the concept of ‘living well’ mean to May – and what qualities do you need to work in the team of the same name?

“For me, living well is about having a sense of contentment, of happiness. It’s about quality time, family; about making memories, and not feeling like you have any inner struggles or anxieties. It’s being at peace with yourself and your daily life – that feeling that the world’s okay, and I’m okay. That’s what I try to achieve with my patients.

“The impression about hospices is often that they’re sad places – ellenor isn’t that at all! It’s a lively, happy, jolly place, as are we – so you definitely need a sense of humour to work with us!”

Perhaps that environment – one of joy, one of comfort, and one where patients and their families can receive highly personalised, tailored care and support – is why, two decades down the line, May’s feelings about her work are still so strong.

“I love my job, love caring for patients; I love working with the families, and the dying. Being able to do that for the patients, and receiving the feedback that we do – that’s all the reward we need. And having the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of the families – going the extra mile in ways they don’t always get in other places – is what makes it worthwhile.

“I still haven’t lost the feeling of walking into the building and thinking ‘I love my job’”.

For more information about ellenor’s Living Well Programme – what it offers, who can access it, how you can join, and how long you can attend for – click here. You can also call 01474 320007 to speak with a member of our team. We’re here for you – and your family – all day, every day.