Everyone’s life matters and hospice care is about helping people to live as well as they can and when the time comes, to help people to die as well as they can.
‘This is What It Takes’ is the theme of this year’s Hospice Care Week (5th–11th October) and Medical Director Dr Corinna Midgley and Palliative Care Consultant Dr Pia Amsler from Saint Francis Hospice will be sharing their thoughts on what makes the Charity such an integral part of the community and one we must never take for granted.
So what does the Hospice offer that hospitals and other healthcare organisations don’t?
‘We work very closely with all our community and hospital colleagues but we are able to add a wealth of experience in looking after people with advanced illness, to focus on the worries at hand and ahead, both for the person and those who care for them. Our aim is to support people to live as well as possible despite their difficulties,’ said Dr Midgley.
Over this past year, Saint Francis Hospice has cared for 1,674 people living in Havering, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, Brentwood, and West Essex. The community services, who deliver 85% of our care, also the hospice inpatient unit have been busier than ever since March, reflecting the higher need for support of people with advanced illness during the pandemic.
‘A good third of our hospice admissions have come from hospitals, with issues requiring more time and focus than the hospital is able to give. Usually for complex symptom issues, but there may be very challenging social issues or severe spiritual or psychological suffering too. We can take the time to deal with these challenges in a professional but more homely environment.’
One of the biggest challenges the Hospice faces is meeting increasing demand.
‘We have a huge amount of need in our community,’ said Dr Midgley.
‘Over this last 10 years referrals have doubled, without expansion in staff size. Care has generally become more complex. Our care was once just cancer care, but now we support people with a much wider range of advanced life-limiting conditions, more people have multiple conditions, and more people are having treatments which in themselves are more complex and bring challenges.’
Healthcare professionals in the community rely heavily on the Hospice’s expertise and the Hospice supports them through education. ‘Our Pepperell Education Centre delivers high-quality training courses so we are empowering GPs, district nurses, healthcare assistants and care home workers to feel confident and competent to deal with the end of life care patients so we only need to help them with the most complex cases,’ said Dr Amsler.
‘When the country went into lockdown, the Hospice played a crucial role in relieving the pressure of NHS frontline services and continues to do so. We have ensured that we step forward in these difficult times, to lift some pressure off the hospitals, ” said Dr Midgley. “For example more hospice inpatient unit interventions like blood transfusions; short sharp interventions that can make a big difference to people.’
The Charity has maintained essential visiting all the way through the pandemic for those in crisis and for those who are dying, but has also had to step up the manning of the Advice Line to meet the demand for advice and support to GPs, district nurses and others. “The phone has not stopped ringing,” OrangeLine has expanded to keep connected to people who have re-stabilised but who remain vulnerable and who would normally come to our outpatient groups. Wonderful volunteers have worked tirelessly alongside staff to keep the contact going, and to ensure that people are supported to come back to our nurses if things are changing,’ said Dr Midgley.
But with the charity receiving less than a quarter of its funding from the government and relying on donations to cover the rest of the running costs, Dr Amsler urged people not to take the Hospice for granted.
‘We are filling gaps that are not currently filled by other services but we are so established in the community that we could be taken for granted,’ said Dr Amsler. ‘There is a clear expectation that life will carry on as it is but the charity is struggling and unless something changes and people support us more, our valuable service could be at risk.’