Martin Tideswell: You simply cannot put a price on giving dignity to the dying
IT'S THE place you only really come to appreciate when someone close to you is dying. A place which, if truth be told, many people in these parts are still more than a little afraid of.
The Douglas Macmillan Hospice, or the Dougie Mac as most of us know it, has been part of the fabric of life in the Potteries for as long as many of us can remember.
What began in 1973 as a terminal care home has grown exponentially over the last four decades to become a centre of excellence for palliative care.
What started with a £50,000 grant to the North Staffordshire Committee of the National Society for Cancer Relief has morphed into an organisation with an annual income requirement of £9.2 million.
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Remarkably, £5 million of that comes from members of the public through donations, fund-raising events, lottery ticket sales, charity shop purchases and legacies.
All that money pays for services including a day therapy unit, respite care, specialist family lodges and the community nursing teams who provide invaluable care for people wishing to remain in their own homes.
People like my auntie Jean. People you will know.
Yet despite its staff of more than 250, its constantly-evolving site at Blurton, its 900-plus volunteers and its multi-million budget, the Dougie Mac has somehow managed to remain what it began as – an organisation which is by the community, for the community.
It exists because the NHS, wonderful as it is, makes no real provision for end-of-life care.
Focused as it quite rightly is on delivering children safely into the world and treating the sick, there is precious little thought and even less money given to those whose life's journey is coming to an end.
That's why places such as the Douglas Macmillan Hospice exist.
When the NHS can do no more and families have nowhere else to turn that's where the Dougie Mac comes in.
When someone learns they are dying they, and their relatives, experience a whole range of emotions from fear and sadness to anger and even guilt.
At the Dougie Mac, no-one sits in judgment and no-one claims to have all the answers.
But the staff there – from the cleaners, kitchen staff and maintenance men to the reception staff, the nurses and the doctors – are entirely focused on helping those with life-limiting illnesses, and their loved ones, find value in the time they have left.
Given the nature of a hospice, you'd be forgiven, perhaps, for thinking that the Dougie Mac, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this week, is a sad place. You'd be wrong.
Walking around, as I've had the privilege of doing in recent weeks, you'd be amazed at how friendly and welcoming everyone is and by how content the patients and visitors are.
It's no coincidence that the terminally-ill, anxious and frightened when arriving at the Blurton hospice for the first time, often relax once they come through the doors.
"This is where I want to die," is a sentence that more than a few staff and relatives have heard down the years – such is the effect that this place has on people.
The work done at Dougie Mac, the care given by its expert staff, is a gift so precious that many feel the need to say thank you.
People like 'Tin Can Man' John Leese MBE, who sadly passed away last week.
John, who I had the pleasure of interviewing a while back, raised more than £350,000 for the hospice in memory of his late wife Olwen who had been cared for by the staff at the Dougie Mac.
When he came on stage to receive his Editor's Special Award at The Sentinel's Our Heroes awards night, he said to me that he hadn't done it for the praise.
It seems to me that, like the man who rattled his tin can for years for the charity he loved, no-one associated with the Blurton hospice does it for a pat on the back.
They do it because they are so grateful that when they and their loved ones are at their lowest ebb there is a local organisation, funded by local people, to pick up the pieces.
What the Dougie Mac and its near neighbour the Donna Louise Children's Hospice do is give dignity to the dying.
They make every moment count by relieving pain and suffering, creating memories and giving those left behind a reason to go on.
We're rightly proud of our hospices because you simply can't put a price on the services they provide.
Happy birthday, Dougie Mac, and thanks for everything.