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Cicely Saunders, The Founder of the Modern Hospice Movement

Author: Shirley du Boulay and Marianne Rankin
Published By: SPCK (London)
Pages: 278
Price: £12.99
ISBN: 978 0 281 05889

Reviewed by Steven Henwood.

Dame Cicely Saunders had a profound effect on the way the dying are cared for. Her vision of the modern day hospice (a resting place for travellers) began with the opening of St Christopher’s Hospice at Sydenham, South London in 1967. Today hospices have spread to virtually every country in the world and palliative care alleviates pain and other distressing symptoms associated with dying. Britain remains the world leader in palliative care.

This book traces the life of a remarkable and determined lady who was inspired by one of her patients to improve the way dying patients are cared for. It is the inspiring story of what can be achieved by people with vision. This is an updated volume building on a 1984 work. It concludes Saunders’ life and work. Once the pioneering work was completed, Cicely’s role changed. She struggled with letting go as others were appointed to different roles and responsibilities. Her power base was diminishing. She found this to be very difficult and power struggles started to happen. Mothers find it hard to let go of their children and Cicely was certainly a motherly figure within the hospice and the palliative care movement. There was a move away to more structured financial management and fundraising. Gone were the days when the Lord, through His people, would make sure funds were sufficient. These were difficult days for the founder.

The evolution at St Christopher’s is being replicated in many places.  Many are losing touch with their Christian roots and vision. They are in danger of losing creativity and the ability to respond to local need which was their hallmark. They are being drawn into the culture of Healthcare. Aspects of this change are refreshing, but there is the danger that the zeal of the founders’ vision will dissipate. Reading this book will inform or remind readers of one woman’s dream and perhaps kindle a dream of what can be achieved in a lifetime. This is an honest biography and not a modern day hagiography. Only buy it if you do not have the original work.

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You are reading Issue 42 of Ministry Today, published in March 2008.

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