Adding Life to Days – Rhona Baillie Talks About Scotland’s Revolutionary New Hospice

Rhona Baillie is the Chief Executive of the recently opened £21million Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow. It’s the first centre for palliative in the UK that has been designed using the Sengetun model – an innovative Scandinavian ward layout that puts the needs of patients and family first and offers privacy, dignity and compassionate care for people of all ages.

With over three decades worth of experience in the healthcare field, Rhona has a strong history of redesigning healthcare models and was appointed CEO of the hospice in 2008. Responsible for 160 staff and 600 volunteers, she is defining ground-breaking clinical strategies whilst managing the financial stability for the hospice. With an unwavering passion and commitment to Glasgow, we spoke to Rhona about her dedication to creating a non-clinical, truly patient-focused environment that puts the wishes of patients at the forefront of their care.

You chose to work with an architect who had never designed a healthcare building, in addition to using natural materials wherever possible. How did these choices have a beneficial impact on the environment for both patients and their families?

We immediately felt a bond with our architect because he seemed to really understand what we were trying to achieve – a building that would house the latest in technology and clinical equipment whilst retaining a feeling of comfort and home.

We placed him in a bed in our inpatient unit for an hour to let him experience what it felt and sounded like. We wanted to design an environment which was truly patient-focused and challenged the traditional healthcare barriers and routines, whilst remaining inclusive of patient’s comments, needs and ideas. Florence Nightingale once said, “nature alone cures”, and although that isn’t entirely true, we know that beautiful environments can positively affect mood, lower stress and in turn reduce pain and symptoms. Our brief to the design team included the maximum use of light, bringing the outside in, the use of water, soft lighting and glimpses of nature from every window.

Instead of using automatic sliding doors, he suggested that we take the 37-year-old door (from our former hospice) with us and place it in the new building. This would provide families with a feeling of familiarity and comfort when coming into our new home. There was no hint of architectural egos, it was a real team approach and always with the patient and family at the centre of every decision.

As part of end of life care, how critical is it that patient’s wishes are met?

The hospice ethos is to ensure that patients have the best quality of life when living with a life-limiting illness and it’s essential that as a team we listen to what is important to them. Patients have many wishes and occasionally they may wish their pet visit or stay with them. Very often their pet is their best friend and they don’t want to be separated from them at end of life. Animals are a great source of comfort and should be beside their owner, so at the hospice, we will always manage the logistics wherever possible to make sure this happens – where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Every culture has its own unique attitude to death. What is your experience of the way we deal with it here in the United Kingdom?

Key research in the U.K. notes that there appears to be a lack of public openness about death. This assumed lack of awareness and failure to discuss death as part of normal life may have a number of consequences. These include a fear of the process of dying, lack of knowledge about how to request and access services, and a lack of openness between close family members when a person is dying. Hospices are experts in addressing and breaking down the barriers in regard to these issues, whilst still ensuring that patients have the best quality of life when living with a life limiting illness.

Our patients often have a number of concerns and anxieties which include; leaving families behind, fear of the unknown, not wanting to die alone, pain control, and the importance of quality of life over length of life when there is no hope of recovery. Concerns about ‘being a burden’ are also expressed so it is important to ensure that patients and their families remain in control and make their own choices.

How important is your own sense of style in the work you do?

I like to support UK designers and products wherever possible, and because of the nature of what I do, I like to look professional without overdoing it. I’m a lover of dresses because of their versatility to dress them up or down – and more often than not, my role often means that I’m the office all day and then straight onto evening networking or fundraising events in the evening, and so dresses with matching jackets work best for me. The adaptability of Sarah Haran’s bags gives you something that can double up for daytimes, with a detachable smaller bag that looks elegant for evenings – they’ve been a fantastic investment for me.  

When it comes to clothing choices, I think that regardless of your age, it’s important to feel comfortable in your own skin. Personally, I never follow fashion, I just choose what’s comfortable and looks good. I think it’s important to know what suits you – you should never dress for anyone else but yourself.

What would you say is the most enjoyable part of your role at the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice?

It’s definitely the enjoyment that comes from working with a skilled and dedicated team who want to make such a significant difference in every way. I also enjoy the business side of the role, networking and forming new relationships while ensuring the financial stability of the hospice through developing new commercial interests. Being CEO of a charity is a diverse and challenging role, which I absolutely love. Every day is different. It’s the perfect job for me.