Improving Palliative Care

Posted on 15th January 2014 by

Last week I took part in a focus group led by Dr Catherine Evans of the OPTCare (“Optimising palliative care for older people in community settings”) research project. The project is a joint venture between the Sussex Community NHS Trust and the Cicely Saunders Institute at Kings College, London. The aim of the study is to understand how “older people living with frailty could benefit from a new service with a specialist palliative care team providing an extra layer of support for a short time.” The findings of the study will help in the development of community support services and care for older people with frailty and their families. You can find out more by following this link: www.csi.kcl.ac.uk/optcare.

Why was I there? Because, over the years, Neighbourhood Care Scheme (NCS) volunteers have helped to support many people in times of severe illness and towards the end of their lives. Our volunteers, particularly, have supported people who may not have close family around them. A few things struck me at the meeting:


The Value of Experience - The seven NCS volunteers in the group had a total of 55 years experience of volunteering with the scheme. This experience, plus a wealth of other life experience, informed their contributions to the focus group discussion. All of us were of an age at which the value of good care for frail people was not a theoretical issue, but one which had been directly relevant to people close to us, or might soon be relevant to us personally. Catherine led the group discussion very sensitively, and it was good to feel that the intelligent and reflective comments of the volunteers were being listened to and would help to inform the development of better care services for people.

Pride - Listening to the rest of the focus group, I felt proud – and privileged – to run a scheme that has enabled such people to use their care and skills to support their neighbours through really difficult experiences.

Community - The connections that NCS makes between people are, at least initially, connections between strangers. Community grows when such connections are informed with trust, understanding and care. People who may have no close family should not feel that they are excluded from the support and care of both their local, and the wider, community. There was a strong sense among the group that we need to do more to build and sustain community feeling.

Some good news about the NHS - In the media, most NHS stories are about overcrowded A&E departments, poor care, scandalous neglect and overstretched services. However, bad news is often the exception rather than the rule. It was salutary to be part of a thoughtful and considered process, in which people were clearly being listened to, and which should lead to improved care for people in difficult situations and as they approach the end of their lives.

Sean de Podesta
Service Manager, Neighbourhood Care Scheme


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