Dame Cicely Saunders

Her life and work

Dame Cicely Saunders

Dame Cicely Saunders

Born 22 June 1918 in Barnet, Hertfordshire, Dame Cicely trained as a nurse, a medical social worker and finally as a physician.  Involved with the care of patients with terminal illness since1948, she lectured widely on this subject, wrote many articles and contributed to numerous books.

Dame Cicely founded St Christopher’s Hospice in 1967 as the first hospice linking expert pain and symptom control, compassionate care, teaching and clinical research.  St Christopher’s has been a pioneer in the field of palliative medicine, which is now established worldwide.

Through her single-minded vision, and the clinical practice and dissemination of her work through St Christopher’s teaching and outreach, Dame Cicely revolutionised the way in which society cares for the ill, the dying and the bereaved.

Her vision to establish her own home for the dying was underpinned by her religious faith. She had initially thought of creating an Anglican religious community but broadened her vision so that St Christopher’s became a place that welcomed staff and patients of any faith or none.  However, Cicely’s strong Christian faith was a fundamental factor in her commitment to the dying and remained an anchor throughout her life.

Dame Cicely is recognised as the founder of the modern hospice movement and received many honours and awards for her work.  She held more than 25 honorary degrees, from the UK and overseas.  Awards included the British Medical Association Gold Medal for services to medicine, the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, the Onassis Prize for Services to Humanity, The Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Award and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms for Worship Medal.

Dame Cicely was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1979 and awarded the Order of Merit in 1989.

Dame Cicely Saunders recognised the inadequacy of the care of the dying that was offered in hospitals.  So often, patients and families were told that “there was nothing more that could be done” a statement that Dame Cicely refused to accept.  Throughout her time at St Christopher’s her watchword was”there is so much more to be done.”

Dame Cicely Saunders

Dame Cicely Saunders

Pioneering research on the use of morphine as an effective drug for pain control was carried out at St Christopher’s, along with other detailed studies of new approaches to symptom control.  Dame Cicely also understood that a dying person is more than a patient with symptoms to be controlled.  She became convinced of the paramount importance of combining excellent medical and nursing care with “holistic” support that recognised practical, emotional, social, and spiritual need.  She saw the dying person and the family as the unit of care and developed bereavement services at St Christopher’s Hospice to extend support beyond the death of the patient.

In 1969 Dame Cicely pioneered the first home care team taking St Christopher’s care and philosophy out into the community.

In 2001 St Christopher’s Hospice received the Conrad N Hilton Humanitarian Prize – the world’s largest humanitarian award – of one million dollars for the work originated by Dame Cicely through the Hospice. Dame Cicely Saunders died peacefully on Thursday 14 July 2005 at St Christopher’s Hospice in south London, the world-famous hospice that she founded in the 1960s, and the birthplace of the modern hospice movement.

A Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Dame Cicely Saunders was held at Westminster Abbey on 8 March 2006.

Barbara Monroe, Chief Executive of St Christopher’s Hospice, said,

“Dame Cicely’s vision and work has transformed the care of the dying and the practice of medicine in the UK and throughout the world.  She is an inspiration to us all. 

“We had been caring for Dame Cicely at St Christopher’s Hospice as a patient for some time.  We will miss her very much.  Her influence will carry on around the world as we work together in hospice and palliative care to support dying people and close to them.

“It is a privilege to share in Dame Cicely’s vision and her work here at St Christopher’s.  We are dedicated to improving care for dying people everywhere.”


Dame Cicely was educated at Roedean (1932-37), St. Anne”s College Oxford (1938 – 1939 and 1944-45). She trained as a nurse at St Thomas’s Hospital Nightingale School of Nursing from 1940-44; qualified AIMSW (Medical Social Worker) in 1947 and trained as a doctor at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School (1951-57) qualifying MB, BS with Honours in surgery. Contact our Librarian Denise Brady at d.brady@stchristophers.org.uk or visit Library or Bookshop for further information.

Extensively published from 1959 onwards, a full list of publications and access to archive material may be requested from Professor David Clark, University of Lancaster (email) d.clark@lancaster.ac.uk

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