Staff Story

Meet Nurse Deb Gatward

We asked Staff Nurse Debs to share how she got into nursing, and how she feels about being a hospice nurse…

I wanted to go into nursing for a long time, and when my children were a little older a decided to look into retraining to become a nurse. At first I did some evening courses, however when I had the opportunity to take redundancy from my previous career I knew I could pursue a nursing degree.

I first came to St Wilfrid’s as a second-year nursing student on placement, and I was blown away by the quality of care, the friendliness and the support from the team. Once I qualified, after 4 months, I came back as a permanent member of staff. I’ve been working here for 10 years now.

It’s a unique place to work. Clinically speaking, there’s never a dull day. The challenge is that we often have patients who have a number of comorbidities, however the bonuses are that we get to give palliative care which is a holistic approach for the patient, and we have a high level of interaction with their loved ones and families.

People often say to me “I don’t know how you could do that’ but to be honest, it’s a privilege for me to be with someone as they approach the end of their life. We care for people from every walk of life; young mothers, bishops, homeless people, and it’s my privilege to keep them free of pain, and control their symptoms- to do my very best to support them to have a ‘good death’. A ‘good death’ is when someone dies in their preferred place of death, with their symptoms under control, with loved ones aware of their care.

It’s a really important part of my job to provide relatives with a realistic understanding of what’s happening. That allows them to be a husband, a daughter, rather than a carer. When families come in, we see their tiredness and distress and we put plans in place so they can recharge their batteries. We help them understand that their emotions are ok. Yes, we are a team of nurses that can seem a bit crazy sometimes, but we come in to hold them up, not just the patient but their loved one too.

People are referred to hospice care for a number of reasons. One of the biggest myths that it is just somewhere people go in their last few days. A patient might need symptom control, for example for nausea or pain relief, and we are experts in that. Sometimes a patient will need a syringe driver to deliver medicine and that doesn’t mean they are actively dying, sometimes it’s needed for a while and then the patient can be moved back onto oral medication.

Some patients will come for a short stay on the Ward for symptom control then they are able to go home again. Other patients might be able to be discharged to a nursing home to care for them. Other patients spend their last days on the Ward with our team caring for them 24 hours a day.

I’m based at our inpatient unit, where we have 14 patient rooms on our Ward. We work really closely together with our Hospice Community team, in fact 90% of our care is delivered in people’s homes, which sometime people don’t realise as they just see the Hospice as a building. We also have daily contact with other healthcare agencies, such as GPs and the hospital. We have regular multi-disciplinary team meetings to allow us to provide patient centred care.

I think it’s an amazing place to work. You can feel drawn to this type of care, and working here at our new purpose-built specialist facility in Bosham allows us to work together so well. The two things that really make a difference as a nurse are team support, and development opportunities. There’s really strong support from the team- both your nursing peers, and also your medical team- you have time to discuss your patients with the consultants and doctors, and immediate access to colleagues.

I love the fact I can talk directly to the medical team, and psychological and social support teams. Plus the wider hospice team all work for the charity for the same reason, so everyone including our housekeeping team and catering team and everyone works together for the patient’s benefit. The development opportunities are huge. You can learn so much, as clinically our patients can be very complex. You can learn about giving blood, aspirating patients, complex wound care, everything, it’s all really important.

I just love my job, it gives me self-respect, and I feel I do something of worth. The support you can offer someone when they are afraid can’t be put into words easily. It is so special and sometimes you can laugh and cry in the same half hour. You can help someone achieve something important to them, maybe write a letter to a loved one, a phone call to someone they lost touch with or even just hug a favourite teddy.

People are sometime surprised when they come here that it is a light place, a place of joy. We are always professional and focussed but we know that moments matter so a smile goes a long way. Palliative care is about caring for the whole person, and everyone involved at St Wilfrid’s knows that, from the volunteer gardeners who make our patient gardens so beautiful, to our Chaplains who support people of all type of spirituality and faith.

If I knew a nursing professional, a student or someone just starting out in nursing, I would definitely advise them to consider hospice nursing. I’m very proud to do the job I do.

If you’re considering applying to join our hospice nursing team, please contact our friendly HR team on or visit our careers page by pressing the button below. 


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