Charity boss marks first year in dream job providing palliative care for patients in Wigan

A Wigan nurse who has provided palliative care to patients around the world over the past 30 years is now making a difference closer to home.

Vicki McLoughlin, who grew up in Ashton and still lives in the borough, is celebrating 12 months as clinical director of Wigan and Leigh Hospice.

It is her dream job and one she is absolutely delighted to be doing.

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Vicki McLoughlin, clinical director at Wigan and Leigh HospiceVicki McLoughlin, clinical director at Wigan and Leigh Hospice
Vicki McLoughlin, clinical director at Wigan and Leigh Hospice
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She said: “With 30 years’ experience in this position, you can make a difference. You make some serious decisions each day, but you know you are making a difference and your voice is heard.

"It’s my home town and I want to ensure that all the residents of Wigan and Leigh have the best palliative care possible.”

Despite waiting three decades to take on the role, Vicki does not believe it is something she could have done sooner.

"I sometimes wish I had done this 10 years ago,” she said. “I don’t think I was ready to do this 10 years ago though. You have to be ready in your career.

Vicki McLoughlinVicki McLoughlin
Vicki McLoughlin
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"For 30 years I built up to this and I absolutely love it. It’s a very busy, demanding job but I absolutely love it.

"The people here have been so welcoming. There is nobody who doesn’t want to improve the experience and the services we provide. It’s just wonderful.”

After qualifying as a nurse, Vicki started working on a medical ward with an oncology ward attached – and that was the start of her career working in oncology and end-of-life care.

Her work as a nurse has taken her around the world, including spending time in New Zealand, working in an area away from the larger towns and two hours away from Christchurch.

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Working in oncology inevitably meant she learned about palliative care.

She said: “It’s one of those services that you need, but you only know you need it when you need it. People know hospices exist, and the support across Wigan for the hospice has blown me away – people are very proud of the hospice.

"I feel so passionately about palliative care. I have always felt very humbled because you are permitted into people’s lives at the worst time in their life. It’s absolutely humbling to see the human spirit. It’s a privilege and it’s humbling when you are involved with a family.

“Palliative care is a specialist field and I think hospices, for a long time, had a reputation or belief that’s where people go to pass away. Certainly when I used to be a palliative care nurse and I would mention the hospice, people asked why they need to look at the hospice because they weren’t at that stage of their illness. But there are day clinics, complementary therapies, we can look at medication.”

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Vicki’s role as clinical director sees her as part of the hospice’s executive leadership team, overseeing clinical services in all areas.

When she took up the post in March 2021, the country remained in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic.

She said: “It was really unusual. I came from a really busy, large NHS hospital in Manchester. When I came to the hospice, they had strict Covid guidelines which meant that I was meeting people for the first time on Zoom and I wasn’t able to meet them in person. It’s difficult to meet someone remotely.

“I feel that as the rules and guidance have relaxed a little – although they still play a major part in this role – I have been able to meet people mask to mask, face to face, at a distance and build those relationships. It probably was a good six months in when I felt I had made those relationships I needed to make.”

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It also took time to make relationships with the hospice’s partners remotely, but Vicki said they have “really strong links” and now feel “very integrated”.

She is now looking to the future and changes that can be made to further improve the care for patients and their loved ones.

She said: “Where we stand now is on the brink of some really exciting programmes and initiatives. I love that side of the job.

"Covid still continues to be a big part of our role and making sure clinical services are safe, but I am also able to look at the future and our objectives going forward.”

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The hospice has just launched its single point of access (SOA), which has seen it team up with other organisations in Wigan to help provide the most appropriate care for patients.

Vicki said: “That is bringing together all the palliative care services from across Wigan borough. That’s linking in not just ourselves, but with the hospital and district nurses, people from the council, Marie Curie Cancer Care.

"With this it means that referrals come to the system and will be triaged and sent to the appropriate service. It’s to collaborate with other services and not duplicate.”

She is also looking at whether the Oak Centre – the hospice’s day centre – can reopen, following its closure during the pandemic. Support groups have been meeting online since and now hope to return.

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Vicki will be encouraging Wiganers to share their wishes for the end of their lives as part of Dying Matters Week in May, whether they talk to their loved ones about it or simply write them down for when the time comes.

She praised the dedication and hard work of staff at the hospice, as well as the volunteers, and hopes more people will come forward to volunteer in future.

"I do need need to say it’s only possible with the contributions of the people around Wigan – the volunteers as well as the financial contributions people make.

"We do have a lot of volunteers that support our teams, from our shops to our receptionists, the list goes on of our incredible team of volunteers,” she said.

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