Graham Perolls awarded CMG for hospice work in South East Europe

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Mr Perolls was raised to the Order of St Michael and St George in the rank of Companion, an honour reserved for Britons who have rendered important services in relation to Commonwealth or foreign nations.

The Latin motto of the order, ‘Auspicium melioris ævi,’ translates to: ‘Token of a better age,’ fitting words to describe Mr Perolls’ role in building hospice and palliative care services in Romania, Serbia and Moldova; countries that previously had no services to look after people at the end of their lives.

Asked what it has meant for him personally to receive this award, Mr Perolls was quick to set the record straight: “Well I really am receiving it on behalf of the charity, not just me personally,” he said. “We’ve got a fantastic team here in the UK and in Romania, and also in Serbia and Moldova. People work incredibly hard. Hospice care was a new concept in those countries, and there are many people who have taken it into their hearts and have developed it. Ok, I started it off and I’ve been given the health and strength to carry on for many years and it’s a real privilege to do that, but there are many, many other people involved in this and I hope the award will be a recognition for all their hard work and dedication.”

Mr Perolls first visited Romania by chance, after a travel agent suggested Transylvania as a more budget-friendly summer holiday destination than Spain or Portugal. Travelling with a Swedish friend in 1975, Mr Perolls befriended a Romanian couple after asking for directions on the street. He kept in contact with his new friends and with their country.

He said: “I went back also just a few days after the revolution in 1990 and I’d seen– as many people had– the images on TV of the appalling conditions in the orphanages and the hospitals and institutions in Romania. I asked my friends whether they would take me to the cancer hospital in Brasov so that I could see for myself what the needs were. While I was there, I literally watched a young man dying in terrible pain and the doctor said that there was nothing he could do, that there was no morphine, no drugs to give him and so he just died in a lot of pain. I think I look back to that experience as being what really motivated me to go there and start hospice care in Romania.”

The hospice care that Mr Perolls’ father had received at St Christopher’s hospice in London had inspired him to start a hospice in the UK. This experience gave him the skills and knowledge necessary to start a hospice in Romania.

It was important right from the beginning that the organisation was Romanian-led. Mr Perolls said: “We started with an English nurse coming out to train the first Romanian nurse, who then went on to train the next nurse. We also had a Romanian doctor who came to the UK to train and he became medical director of the hospice, so from the very beginning it wasn’t just a UK organisation doing something in Romania, it was a Romanian organisation developing palliative care with the help of the expertise and knowledge from another country.”

The hospice Casa Speranti first operated out of Brasov as a home-care team, before opening an in-patient unit. Now the hospice exists as a model hospice, working alongside the Princess Diana Education Centre where doctors and nurses from all over the country can visit and see for themselves the difference that palliative care can make.

To date, around 13,000 health care professionals have been trained in palliative care at various levels. Mr Perolls commented: “It’s very encouraging because hospice Casa Speranti was on its own for ten years, but now there are about 45 different organisations doing palliative care in Romania.”

Interest then came from the countries around Romania. Mr Perolls said: “People thought: If you can do it in Romania, then maybe we can do it in Moldova or Serbia or Macedonia or wherever, so it’s become a regional training centre as well.”

Hospices of Hope plans to open a new hospice in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, later this year. Mr Perolls said: “Hopefully this will be somewhere where even politicians can come and see what difference good care for the dying can make.”

Although Hospices of Hope began by raising the majority of its funds in the UK, an increasing proportion of the operating costs in Romania and Serbia are covered through local fundraising efforts.

Speaking about the importance of hospice care in the country, Mr Perolls said: “In Romania, hospice is life-transforming, not just for the patient, but also for the family, because there are no primary care services as we know them. So when a hospice nurse arrives, the patient is usually alone, they’ve had no support at home, so everything you do is just so much appreciated.

“By showing compassion and equality, I think we can do an awful lot to help Romania and the other countries around who are still struggling. Romanians are very special people and they often have a very strong faith in God and feel that when they come towards death that they want more than just physical care. Hospice is a holistic care and a way of combining the physical, the spiritual and the emotional side of care which again is a new concept for Romania and is something that has been highly appreciated.”

Asked what 2014 brings for the organisation, Mr Perolls mentioned the opening of the new hospice in Bucharest, as well as plans for in-patient units in Serbia and Moldova. He said: “There’s so much need and so much opportunity.”

Commenting on the recent negative publicity in the UK– suggesting that Romanian immigrants travel to the country to take advantage of the health care system– Mr Perolls pointed to the importance of helping to build up these services in Romania. He said: “Personally I don’t think there are going to be thousands of people coming here anyway, and I think a lot of it is just hyped-up publicity, but there still is a need. I think people maybe will recognise that we still need to help a country that is less than three hours away on a plane, and where people really have to struggle to make ends meet. I think that hospice is a way of showing a different way, a way of recognising that everyone matters and needs good care at the end of life.”

Find out more on the Hospices of Hope website.

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