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Monday 18 January 2021
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Bereavement swan

Renowned poet pens moving ‘swansong’ tribute to NHS end of life care team

An internationally-renowned poet has penned a moving tribute to the NHS, inspired by the caring and compassionate end of life care team at the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group.

Ian McMillan, one of the UK’s most prominent contemporary poets, has drafted an emotive verse paying tribute to the Swan Team, the end of life care team who work at Salford Royal, the Royal Oldham Hospital, Fairfield General and Rochdale Infirmary.

And now, thanks to the help of singer Josie Duncan - former winner of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk award – the brass players from The Scottish Symphony Orchestra and music producers around the country, the words have been transformed into a beautiful song, celebrating all those working to support patients and their loved ones at the end of their life.

Ian said he was inspired to write the poem after hearing more about the work of the Swan Team and the SWAN acronym of sign, words, actions, needs.

He added: “It got me thinking about the grace and beauty of the swan and the grace and, yes, beauty that the Swan Team bring to the end of life.

“I wanted, without making the words sentimental, to think about the idea of a journey, of many journeys. I’m bowled over by the music and the singing. In many ways it’s a true swansong.”

In his poem, Ian references the care and compassion of the Swan Team during someone’s final hours – a moment Fiona Murphy MBE, Director of Nursing End of Life, Bereavement, Organ and Tissue Donation at the NCA, says you only have one chance to get right.

“We have to break down some of the barriers in caring well for the dying and the dead,” said Fiona, who is the driving force behind the end of life service, a nurse-led innovation that has transformed practice across the NCA footprint and beyond.

“We only have one chance to get this moment right for the patient and their loved ones and we absolutely must get it right for every patient, every time.

“Ian’s poem is incredibly moving and we are honoured that he has dedicated it to our service. He has captured the essence of exactly what we aim to achieve in everything that we do. We are there to comfort, support - and often hold - the patient and their relatives, during what is a truly difficult time.”

Ian Brownbill produced the piece and said he hoped it would bring comfort to people who may be having a hard time. He added: “We really hope this song will be a means of support for people at this most difficult time.”

Fiona added: “The song is emotional and really pulls on the heart strings, but it’s a true reflection of what makes me so proud to be part of the incredible Swan Team.”

To download the song, please click here: https://swan-nhs.bandcamp.com

  • Money raised from downloads of the song will be split equally between the Swan Team to support patients and their loved ones and bereavement network The Good Grief Trust. The Good Grief Trust is a charity that ensures anyone who is bereaved, anywhere in the UK is signposted to a choice of immediate support from day one, tailored to their loss. Fiona is the patron of the charity and her clinical advice and guidance helps drive campaigns to bring all UK support services together to help the bereaved find a way forward with their life. 

Swan - Ian McMillan

Float with a swan
Down that last river,
Glide with a swan
Through the shimmering sky.
Hold someone’s hand
Till the last walk is over
Here is the sound
Of the final deep sigh.

Celebrate the daughter
With a warm friendly smile,
Help this mother
To open the door
Walk with Grandad
That favourite mile
Sail with the brother
To a far distant shore.

Gather the family
Like you gather flowers
Hold them close
As they let go
Here are the precious
Few golden hours:
Swan’s lovely feathers
Softer than snow.

Notes to the editor:

The Swan Team model – including palliative, end of life, bereavement, chaplaincy and mortuary - was established at Salford Royal in 2015 and has been replicated around the UK and beyond. The team promote dignity, respect and compassion before, during and after end of life care.

Along with specialist care, religious and spiritual support offers relatives the opportunity to have locks of hair or handprints of their loved ones and they regularly pull out all the stops to make a dying patient’s wishes come true. In these unknown times a new and necessary addition to the team are our Cygnets who ensure that nobody dies alone within our hospital community.




Trumpet: Mark Calder, Flugelhorn: Hedley Benson, French Horn: Stephanie Jones, Trombone: Simon Johnson, Tuba: Andrew Duncan, Harp: Iona Duncan.

Words: Ian McMillan

Song written by Josie Duncan and arranged by Andrew Duncan.

Sound Engineers: James Parkinson and Adam Lunn

Produced by Ian Brownbill, Andy Duncan and James Parkinson.