St Albans Hospice at Home pioneer retires after 31 years’ service

Sue Varvel, the director of nursing at Rennie Grove Hospice in St Albans. Picture: Rennie Grove

Sue Varvel, the director of nursing at Rennie Grove Hospice in St Albans. Picture: Rennie Grove - Credit: Archant

Sue Varvel, director of nursing and clinical services at Rennie Grove Hospice Care, has announced her retirement after 31 years as a palliative care nurse working in Herts.

From the early days when she joined the five original pioneer nurses who’d formed the then Iain Rennie Hospice at Home, to the present day as director of nursing at Rennie Grove Hospice Care – formed following the merger of Grove House and Iain Rennie Hospice at Home charities - and President of the National Association of Hospice at Home,

Sue has devoted her career to promoting the type of hospice care that gives people the choice to spend their last days and weeks being cared for out of hospital by specialist nurses so that they can remain at home with their families.

Sue was one of the first people in the country to obtain a Master’s degree in hospice leadership and now, as she prepares to bring her career to a close, her passion for making a positive difference to patients who are nearing the end of their lives as well as to their families and friends is just as strong as it was when she started.

Her vision and leadership helped shape an evolving model of 24/7 care which was built upon the belief that people have the right to choose to be cared for at home long before it became part of the national agenda.

At a time when the challenges of our ever-increasing health needs are becoming more and more apparent, Rennie Grove Hospice Care is a beacon of best practice in providing high quality, patient-centred hospice at home care.

Sue’s total dedication to this type of care has seen her undertake a number of personal challenges - like a teaching expedition to Sierra Leone and India to help hospice at home services in the developing world and a trek in Peru raising money to enable the charity to continue its work and raising awareness that people can experience a good death following a great life.

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To reflect her passion for developing nursing skills and following an initial donation from Sue, Rennie Grove nurses will be able to benefit from the ‘Sue Varvel Bursary’.

Sue said: “I have been so lucky to have had the opportunities during my career to develop as a nurse and I really hope that by setting up this bursary, others will also have the chance to further their learning and flourish as nurses.

“It will be very sad to leave everyone at Rennie Grove but I know the charity is in good hands and will continue to offer such valuable support to local families when it matters most.”

Stewart Marks, chief executive at Rennie Grove, said: “Sue has played a major role in the evolution of the charity we know today from the moment she joined the first group of nurses working as Hospice at Home pioneers in the 1980s.

“Thirty one years of service later, the awe and admiration Sue had in those early days of Hospice at Home provision, its principles of care and the close team working of our dedicated staff remain as strong as ever.

“Rennie Grove’s services have benefitted, grown and developed as a result of Sue’s dedication, hard work and determination to do her utmost for patients and their families, not only in our immediate working area but across the UK. Those of us who have had the privilage to work with Sue will miss her immensely but her legacy remains and we all wish her a very happy and well-deserved retirement.”

Sam Howard has been appointed as Rennie Grove’s new director of nursing and patient services and will take up her the role following Sue’s retirement in early May. Sam is currently Rennie Grove’s head of children’s services.