As Babs Henderson, one of the longest serving members of staff at Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS)’s Rachel House retires, Michael Alexander speaks to her about a lifetime of nursing.
As one of the few remaining original members of staff who has been with Rachel House from its opening at Kinross in 1996, it is with mixed emotions that CHAS (Children’s Hospices Across Scotland) associate nurse director Babs Henderson retires at the end of December.
But as Babs Henderson, of Crossgates, reflects on her career and the “wonderful” 24 years she’s helped CHAS support children with life shortening conditions, she realises that her own journey charts some of the milestones the charity has reached along the road.
“As a child I always wanted to be a nurse and look after children,” said Cardenden-raised Babs – a former pupil of Dunend Primary and Beath High School – whose mum was a nursery nurse.
“I did my paediatric nursing qualification at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.
“I then worked at ward five – which was then the children’s ward – at Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy.”
Babs recalled it was a very busy ward in Kirkcaldy that would often get children admitted who had life shortening conditions and needed very complex care.
But one of the most frustrating aspects she found from a nursing perspective was that she didn’t have time to support the families or look after the children in the way she wanted to.
“At that time, Martin House down in Leeds was the closest children’s hospice to Scotland,” she said.
“We used to get a couple of childen who would come into the ward to check they were well enough to travel to Martin House for their respite break in England.
“So when family members of children with life shortening conditions founded CHAS and I attended a public meeting to hear what a children’s hospice at Kinross would mean to the community, I remember instantly thinking to myself ‘I really want to be part of that!’
Babs, who has held six different jobs within CHAS, started as part of the original care team at Rachel House in February 1996. She was there when the Princess Royal cut the ribbon and opened the doors in June 1996.
Since those days, she has spent a huge part of her career working for CHAS which has included travelling the length and breadth of the UK and beyond.
When Rachel House developed a home care team to cope with expanding demand across Scotland back in 2000, she was eager to bring her knowledge to the team and support families from as far afield as they were needed. It’s now known as CHAS at Home.
Then in 2006, she qualified as a specialist practitioner in palliative care, which was a degree programme CHAS supported her through. She became deputy head of care at Rachel House and continued to support the CHAS at Home team.
“It was through all of this collective learning that I was honoured to be appointed as the first director of CHAS at Home,” she explained.
“We developed the CHAS at Home teams in Rachel House, Robin House, Inverness and introduced a whole new team to cover the north east of Scotland, based in Aberdeen. We had come so far.”
In 2012, Babs went to Montreal with a CHAS team to help showcase their pioneering work.
Then in 2014, she moved on to develop another new team focussing on quality and care assurance.
In March 2018, a year after CHAS launched its ambitious three-year plan to reach every family who needs it throughout Scotland, she took on the role of clinical support lead to help meet that challenge – a post that has turned out to be her last one as she retires at 55.
Over the years she has also volunteered at fundraising events like Beat the Borders and the Rob Roy challenge and has also participated in a fair few fundraising events including three Kiltwalks and the Bubble Run.
“I feel very privileged to have been part of CHAS from the very beginning and have worked with some of the most inspiring people I have ever met, both families and staff,” she said.
“There are only a few people still working in CHAS with whom I have worked from the very first week: Dr Pat, Sue Hogg, Sharon Ballingall, Alison Blair and Avril Anderson, they are all very special people.
“Although I look forward to my retirement, I will very much miss being part of the team, both at Rachel House and CHAS more broadly.
“CHAS will always hold a very special place in my heart. However I will become part of the alumni programme and will continue to support the charity for many years to come.
“As the next chapter of the CHAS plan begins, I will look on with great interest to see the path Rami Okasha will lead the charity on when he takes up the chief executive post in 2020.
“We’ve come a long way since Philip Schofield cut the first turf at Rachel House, but there will always work to be done!”