L-R: Councillor Kate Taylor, St Luke’s CEO Steve Statham, Director of Public Health Ruth Harrell, St Luke’s Deputy Clinical Director Gail Wilson
Plymouth has become England’s first Compassionate City following its work to meet the objectives of the End of Life Compassionate City Charter.
The city has received the accolade from Public Health Palliative Care International in recognition of its commitment to the charter, which provides a framework outlining social actions relating to death, dying and loss, to be delivered in partnership with communities and individuals for the benefit of everyone in the city.
A compassionate city or community is one that recognises that care for one another at times of crisis and loss is not a task solely for health and social services, but is everyone’s responsibility.
In May 2018 St Luke’s Hospice hosted ‘Plymouth, a Compassionate City: What can you do?’, a conference attended by organisations ranging from schools and places of worship to solicitors, GP surgeries, voluntary groups and Plymouth City Council.
While acknowledging the great progress the city has made in creating compassionate communities for homeless and prison populations, key speaker Professor Allan Kellehear of Bradford University challenged Plymouth to do more, stating that: “Every day people die and hearts are broken. Death and dying are more than medical issues and caring for those affected is not just the role of the doctor and the chaplain. End of life care is everyone’s responsibility and we all have a practical role to play.”
He asked the city to adopt a public health approach to dealing with the lasting impacts of death, dying and loss on the residents of Plymouth, and to implement the End of Life Compassionate City Charter. By having a city-wide end of life network working in partnership with the City Council, as well as other public bodies and local charities, the aim is for Plymouth to be a city that does not shy away from the ‘taboo’ subjects of death, dying and bereavement, but talks openly about them.
Across Plymouth people will be more informed and compassionate towards those facing end of life, or experiencing loss and bereavement. Delegates demonstrated overwhelming support for the charter and the creation of an end of life network for Plymouth and the surrounding communities, made up of individuals, groups and organisations working together to deliver the charter’s aims.
Councillor Kate Taylor, Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care, said: “The Compassionate City Charter for end of life care gives us all a framework to work towards. The challenges it will help us meet are particularly pertinent to Plymouth as a growing city with a rising number of over-65s.
“There are increasing demands on health and social care services as care becomes more complex and end of life needs grow compounded by a national funding crisis in social care. Death and dying are more than medical issues and caring for those affected is not just the role of doctors, we all have a role to play. We fully support this approach and will work with our community to turn aspiration into action.”
Ruth Harrell, Director of Public Health for Plymouth, said: “Everyone agrees with the need to have a more compassionate approach to those at end of life but how do we make it a reality across our city? By taking a public health approach to end of life care, we can give a voice to all those affected by death, dying, bereavement and loss and work together to create a city that does not shy away from their needs but provides a compassionate collective response.”
CEO of St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, Steve Statham added: “We have a key role to play in supporting our community and networks in times of crisis and loss. This charter is about how we can work together towards extending the support we give to people at a most difficult time in their life”.
The initiative is being co-ordinated and led by Gail Wilson, Deputy Director of Clinical Services at St Luke’s, who said: “Across the city and the wider communities there are many examples of individuals and groups going the extra mile to support people during times of sickness, bereavement and loss, from providing a listening ear to helping with practical things such as walking the dog and collecting shopping.
“I have been amazed by what various organisations and individuals across the city have achieved in the past 18 months, with the support of the compassionate community team at St Luke’s. This is really a great start but there is much more to do, so I would encourage anybody who wants to be involved to sign up to the network and join us, so together we can create compassionate networks where we live and work so that no-one at end of life or experiencing bereavement and loss feels isolated or alone.”