Caroline Bernard, Head of Policy and Communications at Homeless Link, reflects on her visit to Hospice UK’s annual conference and discusses their new report on tackling inequalities in end of life care.
Not wishing to trivialise the words of the late and highly respected Jo Cox MP, “more in common” was the thought that came to mind as I left the International Centre in Telford after two very enlightening days at my first Hospice UK annual conference, Transforming Palliative Care. I had obtained an invitation through Homeless Link’s membership of the Health and Wellbeing Alliance, and my main role was chairing a parallel session on improving palliative care for people experiencing homelessness.
Whilst I and the panel were sure that we could deliver an engaging session, we were unsure of how many delegates would be interested enough to attend. Hospice UK had secured homeless health guru Dr Caroline Shulman and St. Mungo’s Palliative Care Co-ordinator Niamh Brophy as speakers, with me as the warm up act and facilitator.
I was also there previewing the Health and Wellbeing Alliance report Care committed to me. Commissioned by NHS England to look at supporting end of life care for groups that face some of the starkest health inequalities, Care committed to me aims to identify and share good practice in end of life care for three specific groups: people in Gypsy and Traveller communities, people experiencing homelessness and people who are LGBTQ. The project leads (Hospice UK, Marie Curie and Together for Short Lives) partnered with other members of the Health and Wellbeing Alliance, including Homeless Link, to develop resources for each of the three groups.
At the conference, we were delighted to see a full house at the session, which illustrated the growing profile of the issue, and the clear need of end of life care experts to find out more and explore ways of improving practice, particularly with issues such as the Homelessness Reduction Act, no recourse to public funds and Brexit adding to the complexity.
A lot of engagement took place both during and at the end of the session, and some of the delegates completed a “pledge” sharing the one thing they could do right away to improve care for people experiencing homelessness. One delegate said they would volunteer at a night shelter, and another wanted to build better partnerships with their local homelessness provider.
One of the many things that stayed with me from our discussions is that it is so important for practitioners to understand that the wishes of someone experiencing multiple and complex needs at end of life are not always going to be conventional, but we have to respect them.
However, the main thing that struck me was how similar in essence Hospice UK is to Homeless Link. We both represent provider members that work with highly vulnerable groups of people, and the subject matter we both deal with may be seen as “difficult” by others but we are both bringing these issues to the mainstream. On a practical level, we both provide training, offer funding through social investment and grant programmes, and we each run a National Advisory Council made up of members from the different regions.
Now that the conference is over, with the publication of Care committed to me, the next steps are to think of ways that we can work together in the future to continue the conversation and provide useful tools and guidance to our respective members. We want to keep end of life care and homelessness in all its forms firmly on our respective agendas. Having discovered that the hospice and homelessness movements also have far “more in common than that which divides us”, this is a relationship we very much want to build upon.
Read Care committed to me on Hospice UK’s website here.