Dr John Henderson, who was one of the first people to work at The Myton Hospices, spoke to us about his memories of his time working as a Doctor when Warwick Myton Hospice first opened 35 years ago.

How did you get involved with Myton?

I was a senior partner at one of the local medical practices – there were five of us and we worked in Priory Park – and I knew Dr Backhouse who was one of the founders of Myton. We were invited to come and provide the medical care for the inpatients so we were there right from the start. Three of us – myself, Dr Pearce and Dr Hayward – agreed one of us would come down every day. We did that for several years until it got so big that they needed a full time person. We carried on covering emergencies and night rounds.

Did you have any experience working in a hospice?

We were all new to hospice work, apart from the new Matron who was very experienced. Dr Pearson and I went down to St Christopher’s Hospice because we had no experience of working in a hospice and worked with a couple of locums there. We mainly learned how to talk to people that were dying and how to approach patients. We learnt together with a lot of the nurses on the job at Myton and that was how it all started.

Were there any difficulties you came across?

When it came to cremation you needed two forms signed by the family doctor before the registrar signed it off. It was around the time Harold Shipman was prosecuted and imprisoned for forging people’s wills and taking their money; I was very involved with medical politics in the area at the time and knew about all that. We were suddenly signing far more death certificates than we had been before and the local medical supervisors were suddenly worried we were killing off people! Fortunately, one of the other GPs in the team said to them ‘you do realise these people have just taken over the medical care at a hospice don’t you?’ so that all fell flat!

People would also come in with all sorts of drugs which were on the ‘Dangerous Drugs’ list which would then fall into possession of the hospice but we weren’t allowed to destroy them unless there was a policeman present. They got fed up of having to come and see us getting rid of all these various bottles! We became a very good team though and the three of us really enjoyed it; learning new skills and working in the environment of the hospice.

Did you take your knowledge and experience forward into the practice?

It taught us a lot and we did take it with us back into the practice. One of the skills we had to learn was how to tell people they were dying and help them to accept it. It wasn’t the sort of thing we talked about in those days. We started using that to talk to our own patients at the practice that weren’t at the hospice. We let them know they could go there if they needed to. It wasn’t everybody’s choice; the two partners at the practice who weren’t involved with Myton didn’t like the idea at all but the three of us who were really got on board with it.

How have you been involved with Myton since working here?

My daughter presented a posy to the Duchess of Kent when she visited. The picture has been used in a lot of the 35th birthday celebration promotions. She was joint Head Girl at the Kingsley School and was invited to present the posy for the official opening. I was here when Lady Diana visited and escorted her around the building – I think there’s a photo of me and her in the archives. Dr Pearson and I were both members of one of the local Masonic groups and on Myton’s 30th birthday we gave the charity £1,000. My wife was also treated here; she had a brain tumour. I’m still delighted to be associated with the hospice.

Did you know at the time Myton, and hospices in general, were going to grow in the way they have?

No not at all. It was of national interest at the time with St Christopher’s but it all started very much as a place where people did come to die. We didn’t have three sites and there wasn’t an outpatient service like there is now. Warwick Myton Hospice is completely different to what it was 35 years ago.

What is your fondest memory from your time at Myton?

There was one lady who was with us for about a month and every Saturday morning her daughters would visit. They would help her shower and get her dressed up in her finery and they would all go off and have the most monster party on Saturday evening! She would come back completely exhausted having thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. We would help her rest and get better for the following Saturday! She knew what was going to happen and so did her family so they all made the most of her time. She was a real treasure. That was the sort of atmosphere we were trying to generate.

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