Pam Dhesi Banner
Pam Dhesi Banner

Pam Sees Hospice Care From The Other Side Of The Fence

After many years building a successful career in the health sector, Pam Dhesi has found a fresh focus on hospice care through her volunteering work with ellenor.

The registered nurse took early retirement from her high-profile job as director of operations at Darent Valley Hospital due to ill health, and now volunteers for ellenor as a hostess, meeting and greeting visitors to the reception area of the hospice in Northfleet. Her operational and management experience is invaluable, and her own personal journey through illness and bereavement means Pam feels real empathy with the people she meets in her new role.

She said: “I have direct contact with doctors and nurses and visitors to the ward, and I can also build a real rapport with patients and their families. Now I am looking at hospice care from the other side. In the past I would be ringing ellenor for operational reasons, because we needed beds for instance. Now I can see things with fresh eyes and a new perspective -- it’s so interesting. It’s so much more than patients and beds and it’s very impressive.

“At the hospital it was busy, busy, busy – like a roller coaster. Now I have time to interact with people and to listen. It feels very comfortable here at ellenor.”

Although Pam, 58, was keen to get back to work at Darent Valley after she underwent treatment for breast cancer, the long hours and stress proved unsustainable. She started volunteering with ellenor at the end of July 2022, after her cancer went into remission and she felt ready to take on a new challenge.

She said: “There’s a limit to how much your body can take, and I made the difficult decision to take early retirement because I had cancer and other health problems. It took me a couple of years to sort myself out. I was in and out of hospital but once I felt stable, I thought I wanted to do something, to give something back. I started volunteering at ellenor and I love it.

“I had looked after cancer patients in my job but until you go through it yourself you don’t realise how traumatic chemotherapy can be, especially losing your hair. Unless you have been through it you don’t really understand. I have now been on my own personal journey. There has also been a lot of bereavement in the last few years, including the loss of my father, and a close friend who died at ellenor.”

Pam qualified as a nurse in 1988 and later became a ward sister, then a diabetic nurse specialist. She became general manager at Darent Valley Hospital and was then promoted to director of operations.

She said: “I loved the clinical side of things, and I did miss that for a while, but I had always been passionate about patient care and was keen to influence change and moving into management was a way to do that.”

Pam still suffers from the side effects of her chemotherapy and has other health issues including gastroparesis, which makes it difficult to digest food. Volunteering at ellenor gives her something to look forward to and means she can use a lot of the skills she has gained through her impressive work in the health sector as well as her journey through life’s ups and downs.

She said: “Every time I come home from ellenor I feel happy and that I have done something, even though I am only playing a small part. I feel more fulfilled, and I have empathy with the people who come in, maybe for counselling or because they have lost loved ones.”

Pam, who is a governor at Painters Ash Primary School in Northfleet, lives nearby with her accountant daughter Priya, and is very close to her mother, brothers, nieces and nephews.

Family is important to Pam, and her hospice role feels like an extension of this caring part of her nature. It involves welcoming people into the hospice and directing them to the right place or person.

She said: “People come in for all sorts of reasons. They might want to get some information about financial support or want to make a donation. Outpatients also come in and out to see people. Some just come in to sit and have a coffee and a cake, and to remember someone they have lost.”

Since volunteering with ellenor, Pam has also been interested to discover ninety per cent of patients – of all ages -- receive treatment at home, with the charity working closely with other community organisations.

She said: “ellenor cares for people in the hospice, but not everyone realises it also does a great deal to look after people in their own homes. I’m just grateful to be part of the team. Everybody is so friendly.

“It’s so different to working in a hospital environment. For a start ellenor is a charity and very reliant of funds raised and donations. Secondly, ellenor looks after its patients and their families as a whole – everything from clinical care, legal, financial, counselling and wellbeing. There’s a sensory room for children, and there are therapy rooms. There’s so much more to ellenor and it’s something I really want to promote and help raise awareness about.

“I think the people who have had access to ellenor’s services know about what the charity does, but I would like to help raise more awareness locally. I think many people’s perception of a hospice is that it is for end-of-life care and that’s it, but there’s so much more to it. There is counselling for carers and relatives, and they look at what happens after someone dies too. I had preconceptions of what it would be like, but it’s so lovely at ellenor, upbeat, like a family unit.”