On International Nursing Day, HEATHER BARRON speaks to a veteran nurse whose lifetime of dedication is a credit to the profession

THE mechanics of nursing have changed since the arrival of Covid-19, but the compassion and dedication is just the same as it always has been – particularly in end-of-life care.

It takes a special kind of person to want to be there on that final journey, knowing that the individual is not going to get better, but that they can, at the very least, bring some light into those final dark days.

Barbara Kreczak, a palliative care nurse on the In-Patient Unit at Butterwick Hospice Care in Stockton, is just such a person, and she is acutely aware of how Covid-19 has prevented her and her colleagues from taking care of those who need it the most.

Before March 2020, the hospice was offering respite homecare and day care services. Once the country locked down, everything had to be reviewed.

“Covid was so new, nobody knew what to expect,” explains Barbara. “Patients needed to remain safe in their own homes while we worked out what was going on, and how we were going to control it.”

Fairly quickly, North Tees Hospital was overwhelmed, and asked if the Butterwick would take some of their patients in need of palliative care.

“It was the early days of the pandemic – before we had the test for Covid – so we had to treat every patient as though they had the virus. The staff were wearing full PPE, and we had to be rigorously hygienic,” remembers Barbara.

Whilst the most vulnerable patients had to shield, Butterwick focused on meeting the needs of the community, and safely managing the challenges of the pandemic remained the key priority.

“It’s so sad when you know that people in the community need you, and we just wanted to be back up and running, to do the job that Mary wanted us to do.”

Barbara is referring to Mary Butterwick – the inspirational mum-of-four who sold her family home, after her husband, John, died of cancer, to found Butterwick Hospice Care.

Mary died in 2015 at the age of 91. In her final days, she was an in-patient at the Butterwick, and Barbara had the privilege of nursing her.

“She was a pleasure to nurse, and she always used to say: ‘Keep this place going’. There are still a few of us that have been here all that time, and we’ve promised that we will keep it going.  We’re still passionate about it, and we want to help as much as we can to bring the Butterwick back to life again, since the pandemic.”

When Mary stayed in the hospice, she was given the use of two large rooms – one as a bedroom, and one as a sitting room.

“It was kind of her home while she was with us,” says Barbara. “She brought in some of her own things, like her armchair, her dressing table, and all her clothes. She wasn’t with us very long, and we were all very sad when she died.”

Covid restrictions mean that now patients can only bring with them what they need for the length of their respite care. No family photographs, pot plants, or personal momentoes, like in pre-pandemic days.

“We have to ensure minimal clutter because of cleaning,” explains Barbara, sadly. “We recognise that covid is likely to be with us for ever, and we’ll have to adapt to different ways of working.”

Before coming to Butterwick, Barbara worked for 37 years at North Tees Hospital – 15 of them as a ward manager. She took early retirement at 55, took a year off to travel, then started as a volunteer at Butterwick, before joining their bank staff as a Registered General Nurse, and later as a permanent part-time member of the team.

“Butterwick Hospice Care needs to continue to support local people, and is so thankful for everyone who supports its work,” added Barbara.

After a lifetime of caring, Barbara Kreczak is as passionate about nursing as ever.