A specialist nurse who overcame the trauma of breast cancer is helping successfully pioneer a new era of hospice care in Wales and farther afield.

Described as a ‘superstar’ by one of her patients, Dinah Hickish, 56, has been appointed the first Consultant Nurse in palliative care in Wales, after nearly 12 years of working at St Kentigern Hospice, St Asaph.

The appointment follows a long-running campaign by the hospice’s governing body to have the Consultant Nurse post officially registered and recognised by health leaders across Wales.

Not only did they succeed, but the revolutionary approach towards end of life care haswon the praise of Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport, Vaughan Gething.

Mr Gething said the input of Dinah and her nursing team was second to none.

The team’s ‘nurse-led’ care framework for its inpatient unit was the first model of its kind to be developed in the UK and has also attracted the attention of other hospices around the UK and even from as far afield as New Zealand.

Dinah, of Tremeichion, was a driving force of the ethos and will continue to spearhead the innovative care philosophy in her new Consultant Nurse role.

She was promoted from her previous post as Advanced Nurse Practitioner, which she had been undertaking for a number of years, often going above and beyond in the call of duty.

The move to establish a permanent, full time Consultant Nurse position at the hospice followed a visit by health inspectors who found that Dinah’s level of experience and expertise meant she was already carrying out many of the tasks that a Consultant Nurse would do.

The need for action became even more apparent shortly afterwards when Dinah’s world was suddenly turned upside down by her breast cancer diagnosis. It resulted in her being off work for nine months.

She said: “Unfortunately this was exactly the sort of scenario we had been talking about. It illustrated the need for a framework to be established to ensure that my role would continue even if it wasn’t myself carrying out that role.

“It took us some time to get the role officially approved by all the relevant health bodies but eventually we have succeeded and it has provided a valuable safety net underpinning the continued progress of the wholly nurse-led model of care we have established here at St Kentigern.”

Dinah says her own experience of having suffered breast cancer had a huge impact on the care that she offers.

She said: “It has certainly taken the empathy I have with patients to another level.

“No matter how much understanding you have of cancer, or years of working with terminally ill people, the impact of becoming a sufferer yourself is life-changing.”

Dinah’s treatment was fortunately a success. She is now recovered and had no hesitation going back to work.

The mum of four and grandmother to two said: “St Kentigern Hospice plays an integral role in my own family’s local community and I am determined to remain totally committed to our patients no matter what.”

The ‘nurse-led’ strategy of care means that Dinah has the authority to admit patients, clinically assess them, initiate a programme of care and as a non-medical prescriber she can prescribe the treatments necessary for them.

The team has the regular and unstinting support of GPs and consultant doctors from Betsi Cadwalader University Health Board, but they also have a crucial level of autonomy which allows them to make decisions quickly and on the spot, without the need to call in a doctor in every case.

Dinah and her team of Advanced Nurse Practitioners have the full backing of the hospice board, patients and their families.

Positive feedback from patients and families confirms the effectiveness of the model.

Day patients, Daniel Weston, of Colwyn Bay and Colin Eagles, of Abergele, said Dinah and her team were ‘simply the best.’

Talking to Health Minister Vaughan Gething during his visit to the facility Colin said Dinah was a superstar.

Colin, who suffers COPD and mobility issues, visits the hospice each week for recreational therapy sessions.

He said Dinah has been an inspiration to him, adding: “She is the most wonderful person. The care and dedication she affords her patient is commendable.

“She always has time for everyone, and no amount of work is too much for her. She totally deserves the Consultant Nurse title.”

Hospice chairman Trefor Jones CVO CBE and Chief Executive Iain Mitchell greeted the minister, who was accompanied by Vale of Clwyd AM Ann Jones.

Mr Gething declared the St Kentigern strategy a triumph.

He said: “It shows without doubt there is a key place in the care sector for wholly nurse-led care and particularly in the sensitive delivery of end of life care. The Consultant Nurse role is a fundamental part of this and it is heartening to see firsthand the unstinting, professional approach of Dinah and her team who are leading the vanguard for the progress of this model of care in Wales.”

Chairman Trevor Jones said the hospice, which celebrates its 22nd year in 2017, has become a safe haven for the seriously and terminally ill and their families in the local community.

He said: “Dinah has played an important part in helping us attain this enviable standard and the establishment of a permanent Consultant Nurse role will help ensure the maintenance of that standard for future generations.”

St Kentigern is an eight-bed in patient hospice which has 15-place day therapy facilities and provides end of life care and symptom control for those with life-threatening and terminal illness. It relies on the generous donations of the public for more than 80 per cent of its income.

Mr Jones said: “This is not a particularly affluent area, but the support we receive from the local community is 100 per cent. They rally to the cause whenever we hold a fund-raising event or other activity. And I am always uplifted to see the number of people who donate or go to the trouble of organising fundraisers to support this fine facility of their own accord. We want to pass on our thanks to them all.”