Jean talks about her visit, describing her experiences and highlighting the differences in care between the Romania and the UK.
How did you come to be visiting Romanian hospices?
A few years ago I was working with Dr Simon Pennell at the Macmillan Unit in Christchurch. He had been out working in Romania for several months and was sharing his experiences with me and told me of the work of Hospices of Hope. Hospices of Hope are a Kent-based charity who have developed hospice care in Eastern European countries over the last 20 years. I really felt that I wanted to experience hospice care in Romania for myself.
When did you first go over?
In January 2013 I turned 40 and wanted to do something to make a difference to other people’s lives. I had a 40th birthday party and asked people to donate money for me to spend on supplies for my trip. We raised £2000 on that night! A couple of days later, I flew out to Bucharest for two weeks and took money and supplies with me.
How were you able to help the hospices out there?
I was given an opportunity to do some training with the staff in both Bucharest and Brasov around lifting and handling. They were lifting patients with no aids whatsoever. I was able to take slide sheets for them to use and trained them in using them. I also introduced them to a reflective learning tool.
Whilst there I was able to stock the hospice with pads, dressings, nappies and wipes. The people were so warm and kind. The nurses had so little but were full of dedication and compassion. When I returned home I bought more lifting aids and sent them out. I continued to think of ways I could help them.
So what did you do?
There is so much waste in the NHS (UK National Health Service). When patients pass away, equipment and unopened supplies cannot be reused. I checked with my manager at the time and arranged for any donated items to be kept and then sent them out in a lorry at the end of the year.
What took you back this March?
Well it had been two years since my last visit and one of my colleagues from the Macmillan unit had shown an interest in going, so we decided to go together. This trip was only for five days, so we were a little limited in what we could do.
What did you do this time?
Even though it was a short visit we did manage to go out with both the adult and paediatric community teams and visited the Marie Curie Children’s hospital. We visited the hospice in Brasov for one day and did some more lifting and handling training. We also got talked into doing some filming! They videoed our lifting and handling techniques and are producing a video to go on the national palliative care teaching website in Romania. It will be a resource for both professionals and carers.
Can you explain the differences you saw between hospice care here and out in Romania?
The kinds of patients they have are slightly different, as a lot of patients are diagnosed very late in their disease. So we saw patients who, if they had lived in the UK, would’ve been diagnosed earlier and may not have ended up being palliative.
There is neither the funding nor the expertise required for diagnostics in Romania. The rich people can afford the care but the poor definitely suffer more.
There appeared to be more childhood cancers. There were more lung cancer patients (the Romanians like to smoke and do not really fully understand the dangers of doing so).
Hospices and hospitals in the UK are so well equipped and staffed. In Romania there is very basic equipment and supplies. The nurses do amazingly well given that they have so little.
Will you go out again?
Oh yes I’m sure I will. I’m not sure when yet. The Bucharest team have just opened their first inpatient unit which is very exciting. We stayed in the new hospice whilst there but it wasn’t open.
Since our return they have received funding from the House of Insurance in Romania, so they are now open to take patients.
I would love to go out and see how the service is developing but for now my energies are channelled into developing our own services here at Lewis Manning Hospice.
This interview originally appeared in the Lewis Manning Winter newsletter. It is reprinted with permission.