WITH the sounds of laughter and smiling faces welcoming you at every turn, Prospect’s in-patient unit is poles apart from the stereotypical grim and sterile ward the word hospice conjures up in many of us.

It may be a place patients choose to spend their last moments, but for most of them it is a warm, caring haven and the promise of pain relief and emotional comfort at the most gruelling and terrifying time in their lives.

“We primarily look at symptom control so if somebody is struggling at home with pain issues or nausea and vomiting and all the things relating to their illness that can’t be managed at home, they come to the specialist unit for a short two-week stay,” said Lisa Howe, team leader in the in-patient unit. “After two weeks they would usually go back home.

“Some people come in for respite and others do come in for terminal care admission and will die at the hospice, but many are here for short stays.”

The unit counts 15 beds, with a new room due to become available soon, and is a non-judgmental haven where consultants and around 20 nurses systematically go above and beyond to support terminally-ill patients, their carers and loved ones. “What we try to do is to keep it like a home from home,” said Lisa. “A lot of people are frightened and anxious, the first time. “They think a hospice is where people come to die, but as soon as they’ve experienced the care that we offer, they become relaxed and grateful to be here and that’s lovely to see. “The fear factor drains from their face the minute they walk through the door.”

The definition of ‘loved ones’ has been stretched to its broadest sense over the years and has at times left the team scratching their heads over logistical conundrums such as how to accommodate a goat and even a horse on the hospice grounds.

“We will do anything to make their experience the best it can be,” she added. “People’s anxiety levels are quite high before they come here. But it’s really stress-free and you hear people laughing in the corridors, see people smiling. “Going the extra mile makes such a difference.

“It is not like a hospital where they treat the illness. We treat and look at the whole person and that means the family as well, down to the cat and fish. “We have even had a goat. We are in the fortunate position that we have time to sit with people and listen to them, if they need to talk.

“Often people don’t want to leave because they get everything they need in one place.”

Comfort does not end there. Individualised menus adapted to the patient’s sometimes frugal appetite or specific dietary needs are one of many features setting the unit miles apart from a hospital ward.

Although losing patients can take its toll on staff, who forge strong bonds with their charges and their families over weeks and months, positivity and an upbeat outlook at all times are nurses’ as well as patients’ best coping strategies. “It can be a difficult job but it’s rewarding because we are building relationships with patients and their families,” said Lisa. “It’s about addressing everybody’s emotional and physical needs.

“It can be quite emotional, especially when young people come in and it has an impact on staff. It would not be right otherwise. “But the way I think about it is that we only have one chance to get it right. If someone is coming in for terminal care admission, these are the last memories they and their family will have of their time together.”

How to get involved...

By cheque: With the donation form in today's Adver ​

By card: Online through the donate now button, www.prospect-hospice.net

In cash: Prospect Hospice reception in Wroughton, Prospect Hospice retail shops or the Swindon Advertiser office Prospect Hospice can also take card donations over the phone – contact the fundraising team on 01793 816161

Taking part in an event for Prospect? Why not donate through our appeal – let us know via email on 160appeal@swindonadvertiser.co.uk or call us on 01793 501806.