Emma Williams is a Deputy Lead Nurse at Tŷ Hafan. “My daily routine changes from shift to shift,” she says.

“My duties can include being allocated a child to look after for the duration of the shift, ensuring all care needs are met during the day whilst allowing the child to have fun with activities that have been arranged.

“Or, when I am in charge, allocating staff at the start of the shift, overseeing the shift as being the nurse in charge for part of the shift or the whole 12 hours, and administering medications when children are allocated Health Care Support Workers.

“My role also includes ensuring staff are supported when caring for the children, attending care team meetings to handover the children’s care during their stay, ensuring shifts remain appropriately staffed, and managing any staff changes or sickness during the shift or upcoming shifts.

“I also ensure all care needs are met during the day. We carry out a huddle which is a clinical review that allows us to identify any care needs during the day, it will also help us decide whether the children need to be reviewed by the GP or palliative care team, and whether we need to change an aspect of care and so on.

“My duties also include covering breaks to allow the care team staff to take a break during their 12 hour shift, and liaising with teams and families regarding their child’s care. The deputy lead role is very varied which I really enjoy.”

Emma started her career 12 years ago as a Paediatric Intensive Care nurse at the University of Wales Hospital, Cardiff.

The completion of a  Masters in Public Health and Community was followed by a role as a general school nurse for a couple of months. Emma then worked in a special needs school for a year before becoming a Children’s Community Nurse focusing on complex care.

“My role immediately prior to starting to work for Tŷ Hafan was in the children’s community nursing team for Cardiff and the Vale NHS Trust,” she says.

“While I loved working with the children and their families – many of whom are also supported by Tŷ Hafan – I knew after around six years that it was not where I saw my career settling. However I knew I wanted to remain working closely with the children with complex health needs and the families who I’d already worked with for a number of years.

“Whilst the NHS had its benefits, I found it hard to progress in the area I was working. Multiple attempts to progress in an area which I loved with many others competing for the same jobs meant it was really competitive at interview.

“Another factor was I was on an annualised hours contract. This proved challenging to meet the demands of the service and maintain a work life balance, and for me this was especially difficult with two young children.

“A former colleague who used to work in Ty Hafan told me all about the care team there. The job description was very appealing, especially after I had worked in the community with many children who I would still get to care for at Ty Hafan, meant I made the decision to move to Ty Hafan.”

Emma joined Tŷ Hafan in September 2021.

“I started in the middle of the pandemic and, on top of that, the hospice was also undergoing extensive renovation work.

“It had its challenges. It took a while for the team to get to know me and me them, especially as we were all in PPE and the masks made it hard to identify new faces.

“From one minute to the next it felt like rooms were being changed and corridors were being blocked off. For a long time I felt like I didn’t know where anything was, and I had to re-learn where equipment was being kept as it was being moved around each time’.

“Dealing with all that, on top of the pandemic, meant that some days I wondered what I had done moving jobs during the pandemic! But I kept going, as even though it was difficult I knew I loved the job.”

As a Deputy Lead Nurse Emma works 12-hour shifts in a full time position.

“Initially I interviewed and was successful at Band 5 (registered nurse) but within a few months, I became a Deputy Lead. I have now been in this role for two years.

“I have two young sons and I find that working for Tŷ Hafan suits my work life balance well. I have a flexible working agreement in place which helps with childcare.

“What do I get from what I do at Tŷ Hafan?” she says. “I feel working in Tŷ Hafan gives me the opportunity to engage with children and families who I would not have met in previous roles.

“To be able to liaise with the multi-disciplinary teams and to be able to be part of a growing team with great learning opportunities means I feel fulfilled in my role. I feel I’m making an impact each shift.

“I appreciate the opportunity to be in charge. I like the variety of the role as not one shift is the same and I feel I use critical thinking most days, thinking outside the box and applying these skills and my experience to changing and evolving situations as they arise.

“Most of my family and friends understand the role that I do. I advocate for Tŷ Hafan as much as I can. It’s a calm and beautiful place to work. The children always have lots of lovely activities to do, and I can take walks in the beautiful gardens.

“It’s not all about palliative and end of life care, and this I feel changes people’s perceptions of the hospice when they visit or when I talk about the care we provide and the fun activities the children get to do whilst they are here.

“Leaving the NHS I did feel like I was taking a risk moving to a charity.

“I was apprehensive, not knowing what I was walking into and was worried about my NHS pension which I shouldn’t have been as we get to carry it over with us. And there are so many other benefits to working as a nurse for Tŷ Hafan.

“At Tŷ Hafan I feel staff are valued for their knowledge and expertise, opinions are valued especially when it’s to the benefit of the children.

“Now I find myself able to work with children we see on a regular basis as well as meeting new families. I am also able to devote 100% of my time to any one child when allocated to them as we provide 1:1 care.

“At Tŷ Hafan our work is child-centered and family-focused. It is a much more-laid back environment for the children – it’s a home from home environment.”

Care is tailored to the children’s needs and can be changed at any time. They get out of bed when they are ready to get out of bed and so on.

“I go home fulfilled, feeling like I’ve given 100%. Working for the NHS there is a much narrower emotional bandwidth.”

Emma admits that  getting to know the children and their families well is one of the big attractions of nursing at Tŷ Hafan, it also presents one of the greatest challenges especially around end of life care.
“It can be challenging at times,” she says. “We’re human, we can become attached and, of course, the longer the children stay with us, the more we get to know them and the harder it is.

“We have clinical debriefs to help us deal with these situations when they arise. Staff can access these when needed. We focus on wellbeing a lot and staff know they can access wellbeing through different avenues. We have recently started yoga within the care team to provide staff with a form of switching off from the shifts.

“I’ve seen what these families can face in my previous community role. They can be at breaking point. When their child is acutely unwell they can be up all night and can have weeks/months worth of managing their symptoms.

“They can be admitted in and out of hospital for sometimes months at a time and this takes its toll on the parents and siblings.

“They might have the support of the community nursing team for respite but this is not the case for all children. Stays in Tŷ Hafan can be a lifeline for them during these times.

“With the support of Tŷ Hafan these mums and dads can be parents and not just carers. For them, while they are with us, they are able to switch off from that carer role.”

Emma says she would recommend Tŷ Hafan as a great place to work for nurses who are considering their next role.

“I’d say, you won’t know until you give it a try. It’s one of the best places to work. The support that you get within your role, and for your own development, has been great in allowing me to grow professionally.

“Yes, of course, there have been challenging times at Tŷ Hafan including Covid, renovations and changes in management. But we have been able to support each other as a team and work through this.

“There is plenty of support and lots of learning opportunities at Tŷ Hafan and regular professional development days ensure we were keeping up to date with our clinical skills.

“I originally had a plan of working for Tŷ Hafan for around six months to see if I enjoyed the role and where it would take me. But in all honesty, I wish I’d moved to Tŷ Hafan sooner.

“It is a pleasure to work with everybody and the team I am a part of now is the most supportive I’ve ever worked in. In terms of the quality of my work life, I enjoy being a part of the Tŷ Hafan team.”

Click here to find out more about nursing opportunities at Tŷ Hafan.

Read our interview with Nurse Katrina Morris here.

Click here to read our news story on International Nurses Day 2024.

Pictured below, Deputy Lead Nurse Emma Williams catching up with 15-year-old Marshall.

Nurse Emma Williams with Marshall