On the frontline: “Listening to patients’ stories is a privilege’

Categories: Care, Featured, and People & Places.

Liz Maitland is the Chaplain at Sue Ryder Manorlands Hospice in West Yorkshire. She has worked at the hospice for 11 years, providing spiritual support to patients, families, carers and staff. Here, she talks us through what her role involves, and the challenges caused by Covid-19.

I started my career as a minister at a local village church, so I was used to working with people of all ages, looking at their spiritual care, their lives and what gave them meaning. I applied for the role at Manorlands as I wanted to work with people as they’re coming towards the end of their life.

As the hospice chaplain, I coordinate and look after people’s spiritual care. No two days are ever the same for me, but I get bored otherwise so I’m fine with that.

The importance of spiritual care

 When the modern hospice movement was started by Cicely Saunders back in the 1960s, her vision was always that people would have holistic care, including physical, psychological and spiritual. Spirituality is important in hospice care because it’s part of what makes us who we are.

Often people think of chaplaincy as exclusively religious, that we’re only here to bring prayers or to give communion, but actually it’s much broader than that. Not everyone will go to church or have a particular religious leaning, but they have something that gives them meaning in life, hope or direction.

Listening to people’s stories

As a hospice patient, when you’ve been hit with a lot of challenges, many of these things are quite shaken. So I think the role of the hospice chaplain is to come alongside people, to listen to their stories and support them to find meaning on that journey.

What really keeps me going and wanting to come to work in the morning, is working with the patients. I feel so privileged when people talk to me about their lives. It’s a really precious time. I feel I’ve helped somebody when I’ve been able to listen, and perhaps give them some encouragement or hope.

I’ve met people from different faiths to me who have asked me to pray with them, and that’s been very moving. I think in the world there is a lot of division, but when time is shorter people stop worrying so much about what divides us, and think about all the things that bring us together.

Supporting colleagues through the pandemic

During the coronavirus pandemic staff support has become a much bigger part of my role. It’s been such a challenging time to be working in healthcare, and my office has seen a pretty steady stream of people needing to offload.

A doctor who worked at the hospice during the height of the coronavirus pandemic made a lovely comment that I was the ‘glue that held everyone together’. When I thought about it I realised that when glue is doing a good job you don’t see it, and that’s what chaplaincy should be like when it’s working well.

Sometimes I feel empty-handed as other staff have so many amazing skills to offer, but they say that they feel better when I am there. Sometimes it’s not what we bring to the table, it’s being who we are, and trying to do our best with what we’ve got.

More information

Our Frontline is a partnership between Shout, Samaritans, Mind, Hospice UK and The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It offers round-the-clock one-to-one support, by call or text from trained volunteers, plus resources, tips and ideas to look after your mental health.

Hospice UK’s Just ‘B’ Counselling & Trauma helpline.  The service is a free confidential national helpline available 7 days a week from 8am to 8pm on 0300 030 4434, providing bereavement, trauma and emotional support for all NHS, care sector staff and emergency service workers.

  • Call the ‘Just B’ Counselling & Trauma helpline on 0300 030 4434
  • Visit the Our Frontline site

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