Remembering Mary, pioneer of hospice care

Categories: Care, Leadership, and People & Places.

Dr Mary Baines OBE was a pioneer, a mother to Rachel, Stephen and Tim and dedicated her life to improving care for dying people around the world. It is with great sadness that we share the news of her death at St Christopher’s Hospice, the place where she worked since 1968, and where she died peacefully on Friday 21 August.

Many of you will have known Mary. You will have worked with her, heard her speak at conferences or maybe been inspired by her from afar. In this short piece we wanted to acknowledge her pioneering spirit, her brave leap into a new speciality back in the 60’s and the instrumental role she played in establishing hospice care when she joined St Christopher’s as a Consultant after being approached by her friend, Dame Cicely Saunders.

“When Cicely first asked me to join her staff at St Christopher’s I said no. I had worked in general practice for ten years and enjoyed it; it was a safe job with a future. My medical friends said that a move to hospice would be professional suicide. It was a new specialty you see, no-one had done it before. At this time, doctors had no interest in people who were dying, they were only interested in people who could be cured. My friend Cicely was determined and had been since I first met her in 1954 when we both started our medical training at St Thomas’s. I have to say that I thought it was very odd, this idea of caring for the dying. If you asked me at the time whether I thought anything would come of it, I would have said no. If you think of it, it really is incredible. Can you think of any woman, or any man for that matter, who founded not only a hospice but a branch of medicine around the world?” Mary shared at a talk for the hospice in 2014.

Despite her initial reservations Mary did accept Cicely’s offer and joined as a Consultant in April 1968, a few months after the hospice first opened its doors. Mary described how Cicely handed her “one A4 sheet of paper, printed on both sides and said: “That is symptom control.” Since then, that has grown into the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine.” It’s fair to say Mary has been a huge part of the growth of this ‘new’ specialty. In fact she contributed to research completed at the hospice and wrote extensively on many aspects of the work – including chapters in four Oxford Textbooks! She was also responsible, with others, for the selection and training of doctors intending to make their career in Palliative Care.

But, perhaps Mary’s biggest contribution, was the establishment of home care at St Christopher’s in 1969; a service Mary set up after being at the hospice for less than two years. Thanks to Mary’s efforts people were able to be cared for in their own homes, comforted by familiar surroundings. Back then, she would have never known how big an impact that could have made. Now, in 2020, St Christopher’s has around 1,200 on our books at any one time. As we have 36 beds at the hospice this means that the vast majority of people are being cared for in their own homes; where most people want to be. Thanks to Mary that is possible.

But Mary did far more than transform care for dying people in south east London. Right up until her death Mary spoke at conferences around the world, took part in media interviews and hosted educational talks at the hospice. In an earlier interview Mary said: “For people like me who started at St Christopher’s at the beginning, Cicely gave us two aims – to look after the people on the wards and at home, but also to change the world’s view of dying.” And she did just that. Mary was always committed to the development of Palliative Care in the resource poor world. She lectured and visited services in many countries and has encouraged local staff to undertake appropriate further training. Mary was also an external examiner for the Diploma in Palliative Care run by Hospice Africa Uganda. She was regularly involved with the training support of staff from Romania, Serbia and Macedonia and was a member of Council for Hospice of Hope, Romania.

It’s fair to say Mary’s efforts were far-reaching and, throughout her lifetime, she ensured that thousands of people received good care at the end of their lives – both in the UK and around the world. Mary may no longer be with us in person but her legacy will continue. At St Christopher’s we will remember her pioneering spirit, her tenacious drive and her compassion and we will continue the great work she started, with our founder and her friend Dame Cicely Saunders, all those years ago. We are holding a memorial service for Mary’s colleagues and friends at the hospice but know that many of you will also have your own memories of Mary to share. We invite you to join us in celebrating Mary’s achievements on St Christopher’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages by adding your own memories to our posts remembering Mary. All that is left to say is thank you, Mary. We will remember you always.

Photo: Dr Mary Baines with her friend and colleague, Dame Cicely Saunders


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