The Macmillan and Hillingdon Hospital palliative care team have been praised for their hard work and dedication supporting hospital staff and end of life patients throughout the pandemic.
As Dying Matters Awareness Week approaches [10-16 May], Macmillan Cancer Support CEO Lynda Thomas commended the team for going “above and beyond”, while adapting in difficult times to continue to support those patients impacted by all conditions – including cancer and COVID – in their final hours.
As well as their normal role ensuring patients nearing the end of their life are comfortable and treated with dignity, respect and compassion, they also supported staff in having difficult conversations with families and loved ones, which were often held over the phone or via a tablet.
The dedicated five-person team consists of three Macmillan Cancer Support professionals – Mark Troup, Macmillan End of Life Care Facilitator and Specialist Palliative Care Clinical Nurse Specialist, Lorraine Barton, Macmillan End of Life Care Facilitator and Liz Bunker, Macmillan Palliative and End of Life Care Lead Nurse. They all provide specialist knowledge in both palliative and cancer care.
The whole team also includes Leanne Bainbridge, Specialist Palliative Care Clinical Nurse Specialist and Carolyn Taylor, Specialist Palliative Care Clinical Nurse Specialist, who are trained and experienced in supporting all patients nearing the end of their life, their families and carers. They specialise in pain management, symptom control and psychological support and train other staff to improve end of life care in the hospital setting.
The team also suffered a personal bereavement, losing a colleague during the pandemic.
Macmillan professional Liz says: “I’m so proud of our team, who have done everything they could for patients in incredibly difficult and distressing circumstances. Our role is to help with the emotional and physical effects people may experience at the end of their life, reassure them and make them comfortable, and support their families too.
“Usually that involves ensuring loved ones can be together in the final stages. But often in the last year it just wasn’t possible – suddenly everything we ordinarily knew was challenged. We would have to carry out loved one’s requests on their behalf, like reading poems. Conversations that would normally be carried out in private between family members because they were very personal were often supported by the medical or nursing teams because the patient was too weak to hold the device or too breathless to manage a full conversation. It was heart-breaking.
“During the pandemic our hospital teams have been so grateful for the expertise that we provided. It enabled them to manage very difficult symptoms within a rapidly changing and often acute situation.”
Explaining why she opted to work in palliative care, Macmillan End of Life Care Facilitator Lorraine adds: “Everyone has a role to play in ensuring a person has a good and peaceful death. It’s hugely rewarding to be able to make someone feel reassured and comfortable in their final stages, which is vital, and it’s an honour to be there for such an intimate part of every person’s life.”
Praising the work the team continue to do to support people including those diagnosed with cancer, Macmillan Cancer Support CEO Lynda Thomas said: “The Hillingdon Hospital palliative care team are a key example of how Macmillan and NHS health professionals up and down the country have continued to go above and beyond to do everything they can to support patients, including those living with cancer, during the pandemic. Having the expertise and support of specialists from the point of diagnosis until the end of life has a huge bearing on the quality of care people receive. It is important for them and their close ones to maintain, support and grow our cancer specialist workforce that is currently facing many challenges. The NHS urgently needs a long-term, fully funded plan for its workforce, ensuring there are more dedicated staff able to provide the best care.”