According to the organizers of the series: “The lectures will take you through the pioneering advancements at the hospital.” At a time when palliative care services the world over are struggling for recognition from other medical professions, the inclusion of palliative care in this prestigious series is extremely encouraging.
King’s College Hospital opened in 1913 to provide medical care for the growing South London communities of Camberwell, Peckham and Brixton. The hospital has seen many changes over its hundred years of existence, from use as a military hospital in World War I, through to navigating the current changes within the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). King’s also enjoys an international reputation as a leading teaching hospital.
The hospital grounds are home to the Cicely Saunders Institute, the world’s first purpose-built institute for palliative care, and a palliative care consulting team works in close collaboration with their colleagues across multiple departments in the hospital. This close working relationship contributes to the fact that staff and students at the hospital recognise the vital role that palliative care plays in the world of medicine.
Professor Irene Higginson, director of the Cicely Saunders Institute, and Dr Wendy Prentice, clinical lead for the palliative care team at King’s College Hospital, addressed the audience on the topic of: ‘Palliative care 1913-2113: Past, present and prospects?’
Commenting on the role of the palliative care team in the hospital, Dr Prentice said: “We are an advisory team. None of the patients in the hospital are directly under our care. It is very much working in partnership with the doctors and nurses in the ward.”
She continued: “I think that if you can embed yourself within the generic teams, as opposed to being seen as isolated, that really makes a difference… I think we have a good profile in the hospital and I think the executive team recognise that.”
Staff and students of the hospital, as well as hospital trustees and members of the press, attended the lecture. Delegates noted the importance of palliative care in non-cancer patients, and expressed an interest in learning more about the specialty.
The speakers gave a brief history of palliative care in the UK, from the opening of St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney in 1905, to the significantly more recent opening of the Cicely Saunders Institute in 2010.
Pointing out that many of the questions being asked around death and dying at the beginning of the 20th century are still being asked today, the speakers cited a letter written to the Lancet in 1926, asking for a better understanding of death, with the writer wanting to know: “How does normal death occur so we can understand it better.” They compared this to the recent report on the inquiry into the Liverpool Care Pathway, which noted that: “Further research into the biology and experience of dying is needed,” suggesting that palliative care research has a vital role to play as patient care moves into the future.
Professor Higginson drew parallels between the philosophy of Cicely Saunders of excellence in clinical practice, research and education, and the work done at King’s College Hospital, bringing these ideals into everyday practice.
She referred to research from the US, Canada and the UK that 20% of health care resources are spent at the end of life, to support the statement that: “Palliative care is a central element of the National Health Service’s responsibilities.”
Commenting on the invitation to speak at the Centenary lecture series, Prof Higginson said: “I think it’s fantastic that they have included palliative care, and it’s a great tribute to King’s that they want to include palliative care as part of what they see as the future way to improve quality of care in the hospital.”
Find out more about the work of the Cicely Saunders Institute online.