European Certificate goes green and global during the pandemic

Categories: Education.

Clair Sadler, Senior Lecturer at Princess Alice Hospice, reflects on 20 years of their European Certificate of Essential Palliative Care (ECEPC)

Speaking to socially distanced colleagues and guests last October was the moment I was able to share just how far we’ve come. We had gathered to celebrate the success of the European Certificate of Essential Palliative Care (ECEPC), a training course that was co-founded and first run at Princess Alice Hospice in Esher on 16 September, twenty years ago.

The impetus for the original course came from Max Watson, a junior trainee doctor working at Newry Hospice, Northern Ireland, after staff were presented with a patient with known palliative care needs, who had been transferred from a local hospital in a bid to reduce his increased pain and distress; sadly, the patient died twenty minutes after the ambulance transfer.

This provided the impetus to create training for clinicians seeking to increase their palliative knowledge and care. An initial course was developed at the Newry Hospice and held at the local hospital, after which the programme was enhanced by skills and guidance from Princess Alice Hospice: the ECEPC was born.

As Max himself has said,

that a junior trainee was supported in this endeavour by the Clinical and Education team at Princess Alice was just the first of innumerable examples through its twenty-year development of how people have contributed, shared, encouraged, given freely of their time and expertise to support a not for profit training programme promoting palliative care to all supporting those approaching the end of life.

The course is based on a hub and spoke model – Princess Alice Hospice being the hub and increasing numbers – currently 14 in the UK and beyond – being the spokes, or local sites. Candidates often register with a site geographically close to their place of work but Princess Alice Hospice in Esher, Surrey, has alone hosted candidates from Israel, Ukraine, Singapore, the Philippines, Kurdistan and Qatar, these being individuals who had applied to Princess Alice Hospice to undertake the training.

Promotion of the course continues largely to be word of mouth from satisfied customers; search engines have their place, but we’re proud of the high number of personal referrals we continue to receive.

To date, over 6500 candidates have completed the course through Princess Alice Hospice, with a total of over 20,000 clinicians completing a version of the Certificate globally.

The training is suitable for anybody who is a registered health care professional working in any setting, and who works to a great or lesser extent with people approaching the end of their lives. Whilst predominately accessed by doctors and nurses in a range of settings and at varying stages of their careers, the course is also accessed by occupational therapists, physiotherapists and pharmacists.

We define essential care as being the core knowledge required to care for someone who is dying. The course includes topics such as managing symptoms, communication skills, ethical dilemmas, as well as non-physical symptoms, which might include things such as fatigue or sex drive. A recurring course thread is what we like to call wholeism, the importance of providing a holistic approach with emphasis on caring for the person’s whole being – their mind as well as their body.

Since then, the course has evolved continually in response to educational developments and now reaches a global audience far beyond Europe. In the midst of the pandemic, I reflected how travel restrictions had forced us to adapt to reach international audiences online instead of gathering physically in person – writing this after the recent COP26 event, this new ‘virtual reality’ seems like a timely redress to the collective anxiety around air miles.

Prior to Covid-19, candidates were required to attend their local site in person to complete an assessment day, those registered with Princess Alice Hospice sometimes combining their visit to Esher with a tour of the building. The pandemic necessitated the course moving online and this method has worked so well we expect it to continue long-term.

Opening the course to as many health care professionals as possible is a key motivator in delivering and continuing to develop the course, ensuring the widest reach possible. This time last year we were thinking that due to COVID restrictions we would be unable to run the course, but online technology has allowed us to reach more people than ever. The course is offered twice a year: prior to the pandemic, we accommodated approximately 300 candidates a year but not it’s closer to 400 per cohort.

So, how do we feel about virtual teaching becoming the new norm for the course? A short while ago, Princess Alice Hospice received course applications from two candidates living in Singapore who, unbeknown to us, were married; one flew to the Hospice to sit the assessment; the other had registered in Belfast and was therefore required to travel there to complete the assessment. The couple flew to Heathrow together, went their separate ways to attend their assessment days and then got together afterwards for a holiday. I think it’s fair to say that online learning would have made their travel plans so much simpler.

Here’s to the next twenty years.

Cover photo: The Education team at Princess Alice


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