The little things that are the big things

Sharon Finn, a senior healthcare assistant at St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, London, has won praise for the positive environment she creates with her enthusiasm for work, support for colleagues, and sensitivity and compassion towards patients and families. She is the joint winner of the RCN Health Practitioner Member Award, a category in this year’s Nursing Standard Awards.

Sharon Finn knows the value of little things like sharing a cup of tea

Picture credit: Nathan Clarke

‘Sharon Finn intuitively can tell what a person needs at a given time,’ says hospice nurse Mary Flatley. ‘Sometimes they may need music or singing, at other times they need to be able to talk about death and dying or just to be quiet.’

Ms Flatley, inpatient lead nurse at St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, London, was delighted when Ms Finn, senior healthcare assistant at the hospice, was selected as a finalist in the RCN Healthcare Practitioner Member category of the Nursing Standard Nurse Awards 2015.

‘Seeing the impact of Sharon’s skilled approach can be incredibly moving – such as an isolated, withdrawn patient who you suddenly hear laughing or joining in a song,’ she says. ‘And she is a great team player, so supportive of her colleagues and her manager.’

Ms Finn was named joint winner (along with Amanda Derbyshire, featured in last week’s Nursing Standard) at the awards ceremony in May.

She has worked at the hospice for ten years, joining the nurse-led respite ward five years ago. Ms Finn realised she wanted to work there after visiting a patient she had been supporting in her previous job as a neighbourhood warden.

A place of nurturing

She recalls: ‘I could see he was down on his luck and in need of support, so I would point him in the right direction for services that could help.’ When she visited him at St Joseph’s, she could tell straightaway that it was a ‘place of nurturing’.

‘He was clean-shaven and his eyes sparkled – he looked really cared for,’ she says. ‘I had visited him at other places, but here he seemed relaxed in mind and body. It was everything that care should be about.’

Ms Finn believes ‘the little things are the big things’, whether it is making someone a cup of tea, helping with manicures or trimming patients’ hair. She offers massage to patients (she completed a course of massage workshops on her days off) and works with the complementary therapies team in the neurological support group.

Ms Finn’s team praises the positive environment she creates, her infectious enthusiasm and her extremely high standards of care, which extend from patients to her colleagues throughout the hospice. Ms Finn acts as a mentor to new staff, providing support, a listening ear and advice when it is needed. She has built excellent relationships with other hospice teams.

Her team say she picks up on concerns about patients’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs, noticing any tell-tale patterns and reporting when they are in pain.

‘I want to make every contact count and show people I value them,’ says Ms Finn. ‘If you build a relationship, you can understand their body language and people will unfold and tell you their concerns. If a patient needs a cup of tea, that can be the start of a meaningful relationship with them.’

The key to building relationships with patients, she suggests, is being consistent in everything you do. ‘The way you are allows them to share their concerns, and then you can contact other professionals to help them.’

But she adds: ‘I’m cautious about invading people’s space and always take the lead from the patient. I am professional while learning what people think is important. It is a journey you take with them.’

Ms Finn cites the example of one woman she has been caring for. ‘She is very quiet and I have been trying to connect with her. One day some music came on and I could see a reaction in her eyes, so I invited her to dance with me. Her face lit up.

‘No matter where people are, they have an ability to feel pleasure. You need to tap in and be sincere. But it does take energy and mindfulness.’

Ms Finn is aware she has to look after herself as well. ‘You can get so involved and interested – you need to keep balance with this work and maintain your energy levels. I found palliative care very difficult when I started, as I was dealing with death every day. My coping mechanism was to write – just for myself.’

She credits the support she receives from her colleagues with helping her achieve the necessary balance. ‘If you have a concern, you can ask someone, and you are always supported by the team.’

The public acknowledgment she has received through the Nurse Awards is good for her self-esteem, says Ms Finn. ‘It’s a great pleasure to be recognised for making a difference, and to be recognised for the work I am doing with the team’.

Praise for the HCA who ‘touches lives’ Picture credit: David Gee

Sharon Finn’s line manager, ward sister Debbie Pegram, says her success in the Nursing Standard Nurse Awards is ‘100% earned and deserved and true recognition of the job Sharon does’.

Ms Pegram adds: ‘Her warmth, compassion, genuine care and understanding of the individual needs of people as they near the end of their lives is unsurpassed. Sharon touches the lives of everyone she comes into contact with.’

The judges were also impressed by Ms Finn’s warmth and compassion. Paul Jebb, national patient experience professional lead at NHS England, says: ‘Sharon is the right person in the right job with that patient group. If I were unwell, I would want her to look after me.’

Fellow judge Jan Baptiste-Grant, chief nurse at North Hampshire Clinical Commissioning Group, says: ‘Sharon shows empathy and caring, as well as genuine teamwork. She goes the extra mile.’

Her patients and their families agree. Adrian Simpson says: ‘Both myself and my partner Sue, who has MS, have been privileged to have received care and support from Sharon. She is always positive and raises laughter wherever she goes.’

The partner of a patient who died adds: ‘Sharon is a caring and outgoing person, both communicative and spiritual, which I feel is important at a place like St Joseph’s.’

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