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18th May 2020

Heritage stories: Sue O'Neill

Sue O’Neill was 26 when she moved from nursing on a surgical ward to a career in palliative care at the new Hospice. She was there on the day it opened and is currently matron of St Helena Hospice.

Sue O'Neill


Nursing was always a passion of mine. I worked on a long ward and we’d be breaking bad news to them and their families in full view of everybody up and down the ward. The care and support and attention that those patients and their families needed wasn’t there at that time. 

I had this deep enthusiasm that I needed to do more. I started to research care for the terminally ill and that’s what inspired me to apply to work at The Hospice. I was very young to be starting a career in palliative care but it was my passion. 

I learned very quickly about listening to the patient; not to medicalise the illness and the diagnosis but to listen to them and their story. The Hospice offers an environment not just where the patient is supported, but their whole family is supported. So much of that work is important for their ongoing grief and bereavement.

I have been away and worked elsewhere in these 35 years but I returned to St Helena Hospice because that is my passion.

I think we’ve grown as an organisation to support our staff and make sure we have some resilience to go on day after day caring for those who need us.

The very word ‘hospice’ to some people means pain, death, but it isn’t like that at all. Of course some people die there and some come in pain - physical pain and the emotional pain of what’s going to happen to them, that they’re going to leave their loved ones behind. But when they realise the support that we offer, it’s a different world. It’s almost as if we lift a burden from them, that we’re here to help and nothing is unsurmountable without the right support and help.

We can’t change the inevitable but we can change the way we respond to people. We listen to their stories and their concerns and support them through this difficult time.

 When I walk around the hospice I love hearing laughter, people having a joke, people dancing, sunlight, flowers, life.

Knowing that you make the difference to every day and knowing that as a team we’re all doing it together.  

Listen to Sue on our podcast

St Helena Hospice Heritage Stories project supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund

National Lottery Heritage Fund

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