Why Saint Francis Hospice must never be taken for granted

Dr Midgley and Dr Amsler. Picture: Saint Francis Hospice

Dr Midgley and Dr Amsler. Picture: Saint Francis Hospice - Credit: Archant

This is What it Takes is the theme of this year’s Hospice Care Week (October 5-11.) Medical director Dr Corinna Midgley and palliative care consultant Dr Pia Amsler from Saint Francis Hospice – which cares for people from Havering, Barking and Dagenham and Redbridge – share their thoughts on what makes the charity such an integral part of the community and one we must never take for granted.

A patient is served a meal before lockdown.

A patient is served a meal before lockdown. - Credit: Archant

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.

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 issues at hand and issues ahead, both for the person and those who care for them,” said Dr Midgley.

“Our aim is to support people to live as well as possible despite their difficulties.”

Hospice doctors now all have to wear PPE.

Hospice doctors now all have to wear PPE. - Credit: Archant

Over this past year, Saint Francis Hospice, Havering-atte-Bower, has cared for 1,674 people living in Havering, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, Brentwood and West Essex.

The community services, who deliver 85 per cent of the care, and the hospice ward have been busier than ever since March, reflecting the higher need for support of people with advanced illness during the pandemic.

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“A good third of our hospice admissions have come from hospital, with issues requiring more time and focus than the hospital is able to give,” said Dr Midgley.

“Usually for complex symptom issues and debility, but there may be very challenging social issues or severe spiritual or psychological suffering too.

Over the past year, Saint Francis Hospice, Havering-atte-Bower, has cared for 1,674 people living in

Over the past year, Saint Francis Hospice, Havering-atte-Bower, has cared for 1,674 people living in Havering, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, Brentwood and West Essex. - Credit: Archant

“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 past 10 years referrals have doubled, without expansion in staff size. Care has generally become more complex.

John Doherty with daughter Nuala. Picture: Saint Francis Hospice

John Doherty with daughter Nuala. Picture: Saint Francis Hospice - Credit: Archant

“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 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 off 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 ward 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 its 24-hour advice line to meet the demand for advice and support to GPs, district nurses and others.

OrangeLine, its confidential telephone service, has expanded to keep connected to people who have re-stabilised but who remain vulnerable and who would normally come to the outpatient groups.

Volunteers have worked tirelessly alongside staff to keep contact going, and to ensure people are supported to come back to Saint Francis nurses if things are changing.

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.”

Case study - John Doherty

John, of Barking, was 80 when he was diagnosed with vascular dementia.

After spending three months in hospital with shingles, John lost mobility and became bed-bound. John’s daughter, Nuala, suspected he would need end of life care. 

When Nuala’s friend suggested that Saint Francis Hospice could assist, Nuala admitted that she didn’t think it was possible. She wondered how the hospice could possibly help when her dad didn’t have cancer. 

Little did Nuala know that Saint Francis Hospice cares for people living with all types of life-limiting illnesses.

A third of people the hospice cares for have a non-cancer diagnosis.

Nuala was in for a second surprise when she discovered that Saint Francis Hospice could care for patients in their homes, thanks to its Hospice at Home team.

“The minute the hospice’s nurses walked through Mum and Dad’s door, my worries seemed to melt away,” Nuala remembered. 

“They came with amazing ideas.

“Dad couldn’t swallow solid food, so the nurses suggested ice lollies. He loved them.

“Not only was it fluid, but also flavoured. The cold stimulated his throat. He got his taste back and was smiling once again — something that I once took for granted.”

John died in January, surrounded by his loved ones at home. He was 88.

“Mum and I could go back to being dad’s wife and daughter again — and not just his carers,” Nuala recalled.

“The nurses brought comfort, care, kindness, and such a calming nature.”

The hospice’s OrangeLine service is now in regular contact with Nuala and her mum, Brigid, to help them through their grief. 

In the past year, Saint Francis Hospice has supported 465 people through OrgangeLine: the charity’s confidential telephone service for local people who are feeling alone, isolated, or in need of a friendly conversation.

“I had no idea about the incredible aftercare either,” Nuala admitted.

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