By her own admission, Cate Harper is living the dream working for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH). The Occupational Therapist has spent nearly four decades in her profession, many working for the NHS.
Her rich and varied career has involved working with children and in adult palliative care. However, as a “Norfolk girl” with a passion for helping young people, she always had a desire to work for EACH.
It was a vision that became a reality when she joined the organisation in 1996.
“After 30 years, I knew I needed a new direction before retiring and to find something more fulfilling. I’d always dreamt that I’d like to work for EACH,” she said.
“I happened to go online and saw there was a job going for an Occupational Therapist. It was for a position at Quidenham. I didn’t get that post but they subsequently offered me the opportunity to work at The Treehouse.
“I came, had a look round and absolutely loved it. As it turns out, I think there’s some benefit to working out of your area (Cate lives in Norfolk so travels across the Suffolk border to Ipswich).
“I really enjoy working in a different area, learning about the new services here and working with different people. I find it much more exciting, interesting and stimulating and feel very much part of the Suffolk team.
“I’ve tried to embed myself in the locality and we’ve even had holidays on the Suffolk coast visiting Woodbridge and Felixstowe.”
Cate is part of a team featuring Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists and a Physical Therapies Technician that support EACH’s three hospices – The Nook and Milton, as well as The Treehouse.
They work closely with families, nurses and carers, assessing the child or young person’s positioning, moving, handling and physical skills and offering support and guidance where needed.
They also assist with ideas relating to activities or personal care and help solve problems around equipment. Cate’s role is far-reaching but one she finds satisfying and rewarding.
“During my time with the NHS, it broke my heart that you were only allowed to do so much,” said the married mum of three grown-up sons, who unwinds by gardening, baking and, especially, spending time with her family (she also has two grandchildren) and three pets (a dog, cat and tortoise).
“You could only give your patients and their families this much of your time when they actually needed that much (gesturing with her hands).
“It was frustrating but gave me a tool kit of skills for this role. I was able to bring my expertise to the team. Here, it’s about making a difference to families and the things we do are both creative and innovative.
“We think outside the box and that’s one of the things I love about working for EACH. EACH has enabled us to develop our roles and one of the main things I’m involved in is supporting the care staff to make sure the children are as comfortable as possible when they come here and supported to move safely.
“A lot of that revolves around their positioning and understanding of how children with complex needs should be supported when they move. They often have problems with movement, balance and muscle tone, which puts them at risk of dislocation and fracture.
“We help them move and feel supported with assistive equipment, like using a hoist to get into the bath or specialist positioning equipment when in bed.
“We support them to do things as safely and independently as possible, like when they’re engaging with activities on the care floor or in the hydrotherapy pool.
“If you get the child in the right position it helps with their health and quality of life. It can help with their comfort, breathing and managing pain.”
So has the prospect of working for EACH lived up to Cate’s expectations?
“Definitely,” said the 56-year-old, who, when back at her desk, carries out a host of other tasks including writing detailed care plans, liaising with community teams and planning training for staff .
“It’s lovely working somewhere so open, responsive and reactive. It’s very refreshing. If I need to research something, this is an organisation that respects the fact I might need time to go away and learn and investigate.
“We also have regular close contact with other OTs and Physios at children’s hospices across the UK. People listen, too. If you think something could make a difference and put a project plan together, gathering information, they listen and look at your proposal.
“I’ve worked in services where you don’t have any control or voice and when that happens, it ends up taking its toll on you. You have no influence and feel on the back foot, whereas here it’s open and you feel part of everything.
“I don’t just feel part of the therapy team – I’m involved in different aspects of the organisation including the environmental group and health and safety – and love that variety. Everyone at EACH works so closely together.
“I’m very passionate about it and also love the fact the team I work with all come from different backgrounds. It means that every member of our team has such a wide range of specialist skills, with so much aptitude and ambition.
“They all bring so much to the team and the children and young people we look after. They give me great peer support and inspire me.”