Ending inequalities in end of life care: How a virtual platform can improve access to care

Categories: Care, Featured, and People & Places.

A hospice in the north west of England is using a virtual care platform to ensure its end of life care remains sustainable for the local population.

Halton Haven Hospice in Runcorn, Cheshire, is located in an area with a high rate of respiratory cancers, where the life expectancy for men and women is below the national average. It’s a region where specialist palliative care is vital, but the national shortage of palliative care doctors had been impacting on their ability to deliver this care.

As a result they’ve begun using Supportive Care UK Ltd (SCUK), a company that offers consultant-led specialist palliative care services across the UK, via a virtual platform. “We had a long introductory period where we looked at the governance and decided that this was an option that was reliable, sustainable and affordable” explains Viv Culleton, CEO of the hospice.

“Some of our stakeholders were a little bit cautious, so we needed to supply them with additional info around the renewals of contracts. But they could see the advantages to it. We were without a consultant for quite a protracted period of time, and there was no stop gap available. We were still funding that position, but didn’t have a consultant for up to over five months. We needed to explore other options so that we didn’t find ourselves in that situation again.”

They started working with SCUK in January this year, and it’s been running successfully ever since. “We’ve found it ticks all the boxes, a session has never been cancelled” Viv says. “There’s never been conflict around arrangements – it’s scheduled for twice a week at the same time, and that’s run like clockwork.”

Despite the consultants not being based at the hospice, they’ve still been able to provide tailored care to the hospice’s patients. “We’ve established documentation that enables the consultants to have a good insight into the patients’ needs. Where the hospice is situated we have a lot of social deprivation. The family network here is quite unique, children tend to want to live in the next street to their parents or on the same road if possible. Halton is very family orientated, and is quite an insular borough.”

“The two consultants that we deal with are from London, and they have an insight because there are lots of deprived areas in London, with mixed social ethnic groups for instance. So they do understand that we have a prevalence for a lot of respiratory conditions, that men will die 10 years younger and women die eight years younger than in other areas through the northwest.  There are quite a lot of complexities around the patient situation where we are demographically, that the consultants can tap into because they see it in London.”

After learning that Halton Haven had deployed the virtual service, St Mary’s Hospice in Cumbria contacted SCUK which led to an open day between the two hospices for St Mary’s to explore the benefits and challenges. They have since started using the platform themselves as they have also been affected by the shortage of staff.

Looking ahead, Viv hopes to see more hospices working with SCUK. “I’m hopeful that the medical model we’ve introduced is going to be picked up by other hospices and accepted by other CCGs as a means to sustain hospices. We’re not in a position to keep paying for a consultant who is more strategic-thinking than focused on the patient.

“There is a national shortage of palliative consultants that is only going to get worse. If hospices are to sustain themselves, they’re going to have to look at other options such as this one.”

For more information visit Halton Haven Hospice

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