When call handler Julie Dyckhoff picks up the phone, she doesn’t know who or what to expect – but she is ready for every scenario with a calm, professional approach, and a sympathetic ear.

Working as part of the Clinical Administrative Team, she provides vital administrative support to the charity’s clinical teams, ensuring smooth operations behind the scenes. Her crucial role at hospice charity ellenor means she is very often someone’s first point of contact. Mostly she is helping callers with routine enquiries and making appointments for one of ellenor’s many services, anything from a meeting with a nurse to bereavement counselling. However, she could also find herself speaking reassuringly to someone who fears their loved one is dying.

“It’s a job with a lot of responsibility,” she said, “but I feel like I know the job well and I just get on with it. If I’m on the phone with someone who is scared or upset, I don’t want to frighten them further – sometimes you just have to take a breath. If I’m not sure there are always plenty of people to ask. I’m used to this sort of role, and you learn new things bit by bit. I’ve always needed to work with people. My previous experience in the NHS and within the teaching system taught me a lot over the years.

“The calls come straight through to us. Sometimes it can be a patient needing medication or they might want to speak to a nurse. The nurses are in the same room as us so sometimes we can put the caller straight through, or we take their contact details and put them on the system so that a nurse can call them back. It’s so nice working with the nurses. We can go to them and ask for advice if we are not sure how to direct a patient. Obviously, we can’t make clinical decisions.”

Very often Julie and her colleagues receive calls about Hospice at Home care, or it could be an issue for the children’s team, or from a care home needing support for a resident. Their phones are answered every weekday from nine to five, and in the evening and at weekends the calls go directly to the hospice ward in Northfleet or the nursing teams.

Julie said: “Someone might call in asking for a duty nurse from the Hospice at Home team, so we can make a note on the patient notes which will flag it as urgent. Sometimes it might be a paramedic who is calling.”

As well as being a call handler, Julie acts as an admin assistant answering generic emails and logging important information, for instance alerts from the ambulance service, which need to be logged on the system at ellenor. She writes letters for doctors, deals with blood results, adds notes onto the system from befrienders and sends crisis medication requests.

“We can book people in for all the services here at ellenor, and we also take referrals,” she said. “For instance, people can self-refer for bereavement counselling and they should get an assessment within six weeks. There is also counselling for people not coping well with looking after their loved one, or for patients who are struggling with their diagnosis. Often the nurses make these referrals too.”

A background working at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich and KIMS Hospital in Maidstone and as a Teaching Assistant helping children with speech and language problems means Julie has empathy and patience. At Queen Elizabeth she was a Patient Champion with the urgent care team in A&E, so she also knows how to keep her head in a crisis.

She said: “Often patients or relatives will ring up and say sorry for bothering us, but I always tell them not to be sorry. We are here to help.”

Julie lives in New Barn, is married to Jamie, and they have two grown-up children, Jack and Katie. She learned more about hospice care after her dad George died in Pilgrims Hospice, Margate, in 2014. The hospice at home team from there also cared for her mum Iris, who died in 2018.

She said: “Hospitals have their place, but hospices offer a specialist service. Most people don’t want to die in a hospital; most would prefer a hospice or to die in their own home. At ellenor they do everything they can to help patients and their families achieve this.”

The call handlers and nurses share a portacabin on the hospice site in Northfleet and are looking forward to the exciting building project being finished, which will see them in new offices. The work includes a brand-new Wellbeing Centre for patients and their families, as well as improved facilities for ellenor’s staff.

Julie has been working full time at ellenor for a year now and is delighted the charity is allowing her to drop to three days a week from April.

She said: “I enjoy working at ellenor – it’s nice and local for me, a great team and everyone is so supportive. I am turning 60 this year and we have a new granddaughter, who I would like to spend time with, so it’s great that ellenor has been flexible enough to let me do that while continuing to work with them part time.”

For those seeking information or more information please contact the Clinical Administration Team on 01474 320007 or email TELH.Clinical-Admin@nhs.net

Your call matters and ellenor is here to offer support and reassurance through every step of your journey.