Laura Kent, Prospect Hospice Clinical Nurse Specialist based at the Great Western Hospital, asks, what can you do?
I have worked as part of the Prospect Hospice hospital-based team as a Clinical Nurse Specialist, and more recently as the Team Leader, for the last seven years. I have previously worked on the hospice In-Patient Unit and in the community. This has given me the opportunity to experience palliative care delivery in various settings. I particularly enjoy working in the hospital setting; it feels like the team can make a real difference to the experience of patients and families during a time that brings about challenges and uncertainty.
The Prospect Hospice hospital team works alongside the teams at the Great Western Hospital to provide specialist advice and support to patients and families experiencing life-limiting illness. The team will meet patients at any stage of their illness, often in the hospital, at a time of sudden change. A lot of what the team do in their work is provide education and support to the medical teams in the hospital, allowing them to feel empowered to have conversations with their patients about the uncertainty that comes with illness.
Dying Matters Awareness Week is something we promote to both patients and staff here in the hospital. The focus of this year’s week is ‘What Can You Do?’. When I think about the work we do here in the hospital, it is very much linked with thinking about, planning for and communicating with our loved ones about ‘what happens when’.
It is often thought that when a diagnosis of a life-limiting illness is given, the patient and their family will have time to accept and adjust to their illness, with opportunity to make plans about their wishes and future care and forge relationships with palliative care nurses in the community. What we frequently see in the hospital environment is that patients often don’t have that time. Their illness can be sudden and unexpected, without a certain diagnosis. Their deterioration can be rapid and their ability to consider their preferences about the care they receive may be limited.
So, what can you do? Take some time to think about what you would want if you suddenly became unwell. Possibly consider who you would want to be involved in your care, where you might like to be cared for and who you would want to care for you. Communicating your thoughts and wishes to those who are important could alleviate some of the distress that patients and families experience at these difficult times.