Meet our new Hospice Manager: Kirsty Blair

Very Special Kids are thrilled to announce the appointment of Kirsty Blair as our new Hospice Manager. Kirsty is a registered paediatric nurse with experience and specialist training in paediatric palliative care.  Kirsty will lead the clinical and Allied Health team towards an exciting future in our new hospice facility.   

Kirsty shares how her deployment to Afghanistan as a civilian nurse sparked her passion for paediatric palliative care. She talks about the exciting changes ahead for Very Special Kids and what can be expected from our new state-of-the-art hospice facility in 2023. She also shares her tips and advice for families seeking Very Special Kids services.   

Can you share an overview of your role at Very Special Kids and how you support the hospice team? 

As Hospice Manager, I oversee the safety, leadership, and guidance of our hospice clinical team, comprising registered and enrolled nurses, personal care workers and Allied Health staff.  My role is to ensure that the children and families supported by Very Special Kids are provided with expert clinical, therapeutic and emotional care they need to cope and create positive lasting memories during a difficult and often confusing time. I liaise with external agencies, hospitals, and internal committees to ensure we continue to offer the very best respite support, pain and symptom management and end-of-life care.  

It is important to me, that we nurture and foster a culture of care internally as well as for our families, so that our team is empowered, supported and safe through the process of caring for children and young people, and their families. I am passionate about trying to excel our hospice clinical team to make them the best in paediatric palliative care and give them the development opportunities, to collaborate and be involved in our vision for the new hospice facility. When everyone has the same vision and is striving for the same thing, it becomes quite magical! 

You’re originally from the UK, can you tell us more about your career and what led you to specialise in children’s palliative care?  

I have been a registered paediatric nurse for over 15 years, originally trained in the UK. I started my career as a paediatric intensive care nurse in Edinburgh and was given the opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan as a civilian nurse at Bastion Field Hospital. During my time in Afghanistan, I had the privilege to care for sick and injured civilian children who had been injured from the war, working with the ICU and Emergency. Due to limited resources and being in the middle of a warzone, I experienced and cared for many children at end-of-life and often saw death without support, dignity or choice. It had a massive impact on my life, aspirations and goals and fuelled my passion for paediatric palliative care.  

On my return from Afghanistan, I started working as an agency nurse in a UK children’s hospice called Richard House and within my first day there, it was clear to me that this is what I was meant to do. I progressed from being a senior palliative care nurse to becoming the head of care services, leading the hospice team through lots of change and remodelling. In 2019, I moved to Australia and worked for 18 months in paediatric intensive care, it didn’t take me long to realise I belonged in paediatric palliative care. When I heard about Very Special Kids, it felt like the perfect fit for me – I was really excited to join the team early this year as a senior nurse and now leading the clinical team through our hospice rebuild. It is an incredible honour.    

Very Special Kids is in the process of rebuilding its hospice, what difference do you believe this new facility will have on the way we care for our children and their families into the future? 

Having the first child come through the doors will be such a massive achievement, personally and professionally for me and the whole team. The hospice design is really focused on creating memories and living for today – it will become a vibrant, fun space for our children and their families, while offering the best clinical and therapeutic support available. Every area is being utilised to its full capacity, whether it is the soft play area, music room or gardens. The design is focused on incorporating both respite and end-of-life care, to ensure children and families have a suitable environment for all stages of their journey.  

The element I am most excited for is the hydrotherapy pool. Many of our children cannot go swimming in a standard swimming pool, so this will improve pain and comfort management and offer aquatic physiotherapy in a purpose-built facility. The fact they will be able to experience that with their families and siblings is amazing. It will truly be a great environment for families to make those positive, lasting memories together. 

Can you share some insight into the interim in-home respite service and how this program has helped families?  

The interim in-home service was implemented while services are temporarily paused at Monash Children’s Hospital, where our hospice is situated for the duration of the hospice rebuild. The in-home respite has really helped us reconnect and stay connected with families who have used our services before, as well as engaging new families. For a lot of families, the in-home support is more suitable to their needs, particularly during COVID. Although it is an interim service, we have already had a lot of positive feedback and it has helped families to build trust and rapport with our hospice team. 

For one of our families using the in-home respite service gave them the opportunity and time to hold a birthday party in the park. What seems like quite a small, simple act of respite, can truly have a great impact on a child and family.  

What is your favourite thing about working at Very Special Kids?  

The hospice has such a fun atmosphere, when you walk in the doors at Very Special Kids, it is the polar opposite to a hospital environment. We have the capacity to sit with and support families’ complex illness and grief journeys, while fostering and sharing moments of joy, laughter, and relief together. It wouldn’t be unusual to see the team dancing and singing with the children and everyone dressed up (including Jaffa our therapy dog!) To the outside world, if you took a snapshot of that moment and asked them what they saw, the answer would be children having fun. It is important to me that the clinical support and care we provide to our children and families is in a safe, warm, and welcoming environment.  

We see families at all stages of their journey, we really want to ensure their child/ren are experiencing the best quality of life they can, while being surrounded with support, love, and joy. 

Do you have any advice for families thinking about using Very Special Kids services? 

We understand how overwhelming and scary it can be to reach out for help in the first place. While there is no easy way to navigate this journey, it is important to remember you don’t have to face it alone. I recommend families take the opportunity of our interim in-home service, to slowly introduce their child/ren and themselves to the benefits of respite care. You can meet our highly trained staff in the comfort of your own home and gain a first-hand experience of how our services run.    

It is also important to remember that Very Special Kids offers a holistic approach to palliative care that extends beyond emergency and planned respite, and end-of-life care. We service the physical, mental and emotional needs of the children and young people in our care, and their families, so they are always supported in the way they need it most.