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Caring until the very end of life

Posted: 16 December 2019

Picture of two nurses

Kindness, respect and compassion for our patients and their loved ones

- Some 1,313 staff trained in end of life care; clinical and non-clinical staff including porters, nurses, doctors, housekeepers and domestics, over the last twelve months

- Rose Volunteer Pilot Project – bedside companions for the dying and loved ones

- Providing wedding support for couples with bespoke wedding boxes containing fairy lights, decorations, candles and champagne glasses

Up to four people a day benefit from end-of-life care at Watford General Hospital.

The Macmillan Palliative Care Team, Spiritual and Pastoral Care and Voluntary Services work with a small group of volunteers to make a very real difference to patients in their final days of life.

Fund-raising activities have led staff to be able to make small changes to enhance the patient’s environment, such as listening to music, homely table lamps enabling softer lighting and comfort packs being available.

Rose Project
Picture of rose project symbolThe Rose Project was introduced five years ago in a bid to promote dignity and compassion for dying patients. A rose symbol is displayed at the end of the patient’s bed when a person is expected to die during the following few hours, or when a patient has just died. On seeing the symbol, staff, visitors and fellow patients know to be considerate in their activity and in any encounters with people who may be grieving or distressed.

The project also involves giving patient’s loved ones the deceased’s belongings in nice linen bags and jewellery pouches with the rose symbol rather than grey NHS property bags.

Macmillan Palliative Care Team Leader Liz Sumner, Who has worked in the Trust for 11 years, said:

“The important thing is that people coming into the trust know how we look after our patients and their families, loved ones and people who are important to them.

“We know we can make a real difference by showing compassion and kindness and we don’t just care as someone is dying but also about what happens afterwards.

“All our work is about promoting compassion and dignity. We have one chance to get the dying process right for our families, the memories we create stay with those families and loved ones for ever. We have also organised three very special weddings this year.”

Rose Volunteers
Hospital staff know that many patients nearing the end of their life can experience loneliness and anxiety. With this in mind a team of four volunteers, specially trained to provide patients with companionship, sit with patients who have nobody else. They also give help to families or loved one’s of those who do, who may either need a shoulder to cry on or the reassurance of knowing that a volunteer can sit with their loved one if they can't be there.

The project aims to:
- Ensure that all our patients feel cared for and supported in their final days, and that no-one dies alone
- Ensure that while protecting patients from isolation we, where possible, stimulate them to ensure that their last days and hours are as fulfilling as possible
- Acknowledge and take to heart that, for many patients, the relationship with their volunteer is their last meaningful human relationship. It is therefore vital we create this manager post to maximise the impact of this relationship.
- Reassure families and friends that a Rose volunteer can be with their loved one, if they cannot

Michelle Sorley, Macmillan Lead Nurse has worked at the Trust for eight years. She said:

“Volunteers might also read to patients, hold their hand, put lip salve on their lips when they become dry and rub hand cream into someone’s hands.

“Currently it’s a pilot project for palliative care patients known to palliative care team but by Christmas the service hopes to have trained ten trained volunteers. The aim over the next 12 months is to increase the number of trained volunteers to support our patients so that fewer patients will die alone.”

Due to working very closely with local hospices, patients can be rapidly discharged to places of care via the Rapid Personalised Care Service so if someone wants to go home to die, a package of care can be put in place between 12 and 24 hours.

Memorial Service
The team also organises an annual non-denominational memorial service at Watford General Hospital or next door at the football club, annually attended by up to 70 people. Relatives of those who died at the hospital are invited to attend the service and remember their loved ones. Last year there was a gospel choir and all attendees were given a pink rose to take home.


Notes to editors

  1. For more information, please contact the communications team on: 01923 436280 or email: Out of hours, please call 07900 228031.
  2. West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust serves people from across Hertfordshire, north London and further afield. It operates from three hospitals; Watford General, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead. The trust has a catchment area of over 500,000 people and is one of the largest employers locally, with around 5,000 staff and volunteers.
  3. For more information about our hospitals, visit You can also join our followers on Twitter ( and find us on Facebook (