Former volunteers mourn loss of St Clare’s Hospice - and look to the future - after closure of Jarrow centre
“You can’t fully grieve it because you don’t know if it’s coming back.”
The emotional words of one former volunteer on the loss of St Clare’s Hospice.
Ever since palliative care centre collapsed into insolvency in January there have been plenty hoping that it will one day be able to reopen its doors.
The former centre, in Primrose Terrace, Jarrow, spent about three decades providing end of life care to some of the most vulnerable patients in South Tyneside and beyond.
It was also an often vital support for their families, offering respite, support and advice needed to help them prepare for the worst, many of whom would later return either as fundraisers or volunteers.
Among those were Susan Clouston, Pat Molina and husband and wife Terry and Sandie Connolly, who between them gave almost a century of service to the former hospice.
Pat became involved after losing her husband, later becoming a volunteer counsellor, while Susan, among various roles, spent 17 years working at the charity’s Horsley Hill shop as well as a stint on the board.
“I first saw an advert in the Gazette the year before it opened, when they were just starting to build it,” said Sandie, who now lives in Hebburn but used to live near the palliative care centre.
“When I saw it, I said ‘I wonder what that is?’ – there wasn’t such a thing as a hospice in the area then, but I read a bit more about it and said I would keep an eye on that.”
Terry later needed six months of treatment for melanoma, a form of skin cancer and shortly after he recovered Sandie also fell ill, eventually having a kidney removed.
”We were both so grateful to be over it, so I said I would see if I could do something,” she remembers, with the ‘something’ later turning into an eight-year stint on the reception desk’s night shift.
The couple both later saw the hospice’s care firsthand when Terry’s 89-year-old mum was diagnosed with stomach cancer and given three weeks to live, but after being transferred to St Clare’s survived another five.
“She came back to herself,” said Sandie, “and that helped the family, everyone was having to go to work and doing whatever, but you knew that whoever it was was being looked after.”
“The staff didn’t just work there,” Terry added, “they cared.”
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‘We would like to see another hospice for South Tyneside’
While all four had different experiences of the hospice, all compared its loss to a bereavement and admitted they haven’t found anything to replace it since it closed.
“I couldn’t think about doing anything else,” said Pat.
St Clare’s closure came following a turbulent period for the hospice, during which it was forced to deal with two temporary shut downs.
The first, in July 2018, saw care halted for three weeks due to a shortage of doctors.
There was then a four-month stoppage the following September after concerns about care were raised by the Care Quality Commission, a government watchdog.
In January, bosses confirmed all patients had been discharged after the hospice was forced into liquidation, blaming ‘restricted fundraising’ caused by the previous year’s double closure.
According to financial statements available through the Charity Commission, expenditure exceeded income at the end of financial years in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
One of the hospice’s biggest backers was the South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which provided about £860,000 to fund end of life care in 2016/17 and 2015/16.
In March, CCG chiefs insisted ‘no one could have done anything’ to stop the hospice closing and revealed their own attempts to put together a rescue plan had been rejected by administrators.
Since then the Charity Commission has confirmed it is considered probing the circumstances of the collapse, while NHS bosses expect to reveal proposals for the future of palliative care in the borough in September.
But for the volunteers, who remember celebrities such as the late comedian Frank Carson backing the hospice, the priority is answers as much as a replacement.
“We would like to see another hospice or something similar in the borough,” said Terry.
He added he would like to see the collapse of St Clare’s properly examined so lessons could be learned and the issue “put to bed”.