This World Social Work Day charity Sue Ryder shone a light on the vital but sometimes unseen support its team of specialist palliative care social workers delivers across Leeds.
Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice has a team of three palliative care social workers, who between them have a combined 74 years of experience in social work, providing support to patients being cared for at home by Sue Ryder community teams, through the day therapy unit or in its inpatient unit.
And the specialist support doesn’t end there – it extends to patients’ loved ones, carers and family members too.
Over the past two years the three-person team has been there over 1,525 times for people across the city of Leeds and parts of Yorkshire county, providing support, advice and help at a time it has been needed more than ever as the pandemic kept families apart and swept away people’s usual support networks.
“It has been such an awful time,” shares Sue Ryder Social Worker Annie Collins, 54 from Leeds. “We had a patient who died at the start of the very first lockdown and loved ones weren’t able to attend the funeral.
“As soon as restrictions allowed we worked with the spiritual coordinator at the hospice to arrange a small service at a location holding a special connection to our patient for the family. This helped give the closure they were looking for. It was a beautiful ceremony and incredibly important to them. It was an honour for us to help make it happen.”
This is just one example of the compassionate support delivered by the team, which Ruth Crowther-Wood, 59 from Leeds is also part of.
“This morning I have been on the phone to housing while Annie has been speaking to an equipment service.
There is a huge breadth to what we do – housing, finance, legal matters, wills, family affairs, right through to arranging to pick up people’s pets when they are admitted to the hospice – whether they have four legs and fur or two wings and feathers.”
Working alongside Annie and Ruth is Team Leader, Chris Ellis, 66, from Wakefield who hopes by giving a glimpse into the team’s day to day work, they can make more people aware of the specialist support given by palliative care social workers.
“I think a lot of people see social workers as arranging care packages, benefits or working in children’s services,” shares Chris. “But the reality is we’re there for the person in front of us needing help – finding out what they want to happen and then helping them achieve that.”
Ruth agrees. “Social work comes in many shapes and sizes and there are so many different aspects to it which people are not aware of. A lot of people don’t know social workers can be part of hospice teams, but when people have been supported by us they have really valued the input we have been able to offer alongside the medical, nursing and therapy care Sue Ryder gives.”
It is working alongside hospice colleagues to support the whole person which Chris finds most rewarding about her role. “I am really proud of the supportive and responsive service we offer which works hand in hand with different teams across the hospice. To hear our colleagues say they find it invaluable to have social work input so together we can help support the whole person is just amazing.”
Social work is a vital part of the expert and compassionate care Sue Ryder gives to people with a life-limiting illness, at a time families can be facing high levels of stress and the taboo of speaking about death can be a barrier.
“Patients receiving palliative care can be under extreme levels of stress – not just patients but carers and families too. People can be in a vulnerable position and they need someone to be flexible and be there when needed. We offer that,” shares Chris.
Annie adds, “I think as a society we still find it difficult to talk about our personal experiences of death and this can lead to people feeling isolated. People might not want to burden others with difficult things and this can lead to things being avoided. When it is too hard to have those conversations, we can help.”
The team supports families no matter where they are or at what stage they are at in their diagnosis.
“Our social work support is offered to everyone – whether newly diagnosed, at the later stages of an illness, at the end of life or post-bereavement,” says Chris.
“Following a terminal diagnosis or following a bereavement people might need to move to a different house, help to claim benefits or to deal with debt with utilities. They might need help writing a will or their children’s school needs advice on how best to support children, or the family might need a grant to be able to go on holiday. We can support with all of this by connecting people with the organisations that can help.”
“When people worry about their housing situation, where they will get their next meal from or how they will pay for their funeral they can’t begin to think about how they are feeling emotionally about what they’re going through.”
“That’s when we come in. We work together to help deal with things on a practical level and once people feel these things are being taken care of they have the time and headspace for the emotional and psychological support they need.”
The team all agree it is a job unlike any other.
“It’s a challenging but satisfying role,” shares Chris. “It can be emotional and sad, but there are moments of pure happiness. Working as a social worker in palliative care you experience such a mixture of emotions. Every day is different and I love working alongside Ruth, Annie and our spiritual coordinator, David Buck, and community practitioner, Laura Cliff, who are both such vital members of our Family Support Team here at the hospice.”
“I feel torn when people ask me what is the most rewarding about my job. It can be so rewarding when we have helped someone but there is sadness as we can’t change people dying.”
Ruth agrees, “Despite all the challenges people face, it is the people who make this job what it is. I am inspired by the people I meet every day.”
Annie agrees, “It is such a privilege to be welcomed into someone’s life to support them at such a very difficult time. It can be sad but we always work with hope. It is an honour to hear people’s stories and to see people move forward in life, even after death.
“Sometimes when we face serious illness or death it can feel like there is no hope, but this job has taught me hope is always there.”
Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice provides expert and compassionate palliative care and bereavement support to people living in Leeds. To be referred, speak to your GP, specialist nurse or lead healthcare professional who can refer you.
For more information visit www.sueryder.org/wheatfields
Picture caption: Left to right pictured together pre-pandemic are Ruth, Chris and Annie who are all palliative care social workers at Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice in Leeds.
About Sue Ryder:
Sue Ryder supports people through the most difficult times of their lives. Whether that’s a terminal illness, the loss of a loved one or a neurological condition – we’re there when it matters.
For over 65 years our doctors, nurses and carers have given people the compassion and expert care they need to help them live the best life they possibly can. We take the time to understand what’s important to people and give them choice and control over their care. For some this may mean specialist care in one of our centres, whilst others might need support in their own home.