Healthcare charity Sue Ryder is shining a light on the vital but sometimes unseen work of its team of specialty doctors and consultants, which provides palliative medical care for people from Peterborough, Cambridgeshire and parts of Lincolnshire.
Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice, based in Peterborough, has a team of one medical consultant, four specialty doctors and a number of GP trainees, junior doctors and specialist registrars in training who all help provide specialist palliative medical care.
And they all agree palliative medicine puts the patient at the heart of everything they do.
“I think if you asked doctors and medical students why they went into medicine they will all say they wanted to help people. And I found that palliative care is the place where I really feel I get to do that,”
shares Cambridgeshire-based Dr Sarah Treaddell, who has been with Sue Ryder for three years. “This area of medicine is very much about what the patient wants and their needs.”
Dr Caroline Anson, has worked at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice for 12 years, agrees.
“As a medical student I visited a hospice. Witnessing the compassion and holistic approach to care given by a team united by the common goal of making that patient’s situation as good as it could be in the circumstances made a powerful impact. It was humbling to witness. The most relevant thing here is what the patient needs. We have the opportunity to try to make a meaningful impact to how a patient is feeling, so they can function and they can continue to live their life in the way that they wish to at that time.”
Buckinghamshire-based Dr Belinda Worsfold who has worked in palliative medicine for 14 years and is new to the Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice team, said
“I remember being very struck at the plight of palliative patients before this specialty existed. They rarely had things explained to them, often were not told the truth about their illness or prognosis and didn’t get the care they needed. When I had an opportunity to be a locum in a hospice I thought ‘This is it. This is my thing!’ And I have not looked back.
Palliative care is what I had always hoped medicine would be.”
These thoughts are echoed by Dr Sarah Treadwell who has been providing medical care at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice for an astonishing 20 years this year.
“When I was training I didn’t know what area of medicine I wanted to practice in but when my grandad was terribly ill he had no palliative support. I wanted to know what the alternative was, so I started looking into it and that is how I came into palliative care.
“The best thing about my job is our patients and the fact that I have the time to be able to sit with them and talk with them. It helps me remember exactly what we are here for.”
Despite the first palliative care consultants only being appointed in 1995, Caroline shares that in a relatively short amount of time the specialty has evolved quickly, while offering doctors the opportunity to work on a broad range of medical issues.
“In palliative medicine we see and support patients with a very wide range of medical, surgical, psychological diagnoses or problems as well as the practical or social challenges a patient may face. As a specialty that makes it really interesting and varied.
“Palliative medicine has evolved too. Oncology treatment has changed so much and this means palliative care is becoming more complex and specialist as disease trajectories change.”
Sarah Treadwell agrees, “Palliative care has changed massively in the 20 years I have been at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice – this field of medicine is almost unrecognisable since when I first started here. Oncology treatments are helping people to live longer, but as people live longer they are developing symptoms which require more complex medical care.”
One of the biggest misconceptions people have about palliative medicine which the hospice doctors would like to tackle is that it is focused only on death and dying.
“You say the word hospice and people hear the word death,” adds Sarah Treaddell, “But a lot of what we do is symptom management. Patients come in and we manage their symptoms and they go home again and that often comes as a surprise to people.”
Sarah Treadwell shares the same opinion, “When I tell people where I work they say ‘oh that must be really heart-breaking’, but it is not. I want people to know that through our specialist care we make people’s lives better, no matter how long their life may be.”
Caroline agrees, “The thing I hear time and again is that people don’t want to come into a hospice because they feel they won’t go home again. But we are not about just end-of-life care. We are far more than that. People come in receive our support to help them live as well as they can for as long as they can.”
“In fact we discharge a lot of patients home from the inpatient unit, and that is a great feeling as we know we have made an impact.”
“It is really important we think about the language we use when we talk about palliative care,” adds Belinda. “When people are accessing palliative care we need them to know that there are things we can no longer fix, but we can help them to live well. There is evidence that early access to palliative care can not only improve quality of life but enable patients to live longer.
“Palliative medicine is about putting the patient at the centre of their care. Asking a patient what matters to them can be game-changing and might be the first time their care has been focused on what they really want. It has no borders – we will stick with the patient come what may and few other specialties can say this”.
There are often misconceptions that hospices only provide care for people with cancer too, adds Sarah Treaddell.
“People often associate hospices with cancer, but it is much broader than that. We provide specialist care for any life limiting condition and that can be at any stage of their illness – we don’t just care for the imminently dying. People are often surprised to hear we support people with conditions like heart failure, kidney failure, respiratory and neurological illnesses.”
And Belinda wants other doctors and specialists to know that palliative care is a resource for all healthcare professionals supporting patients who cannot be cured.
“Palliative care is the management of symptoms in people deteriorating with incurable conditions. We can provide a working interface with oncology and other acute specialists.
“We are not about whispering kindly and handing out morphine. This is a dynamic interactive specialty working closely with other hospital teams, general practice and community and specialist nursing.”
The Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice medical team are also keen to share that palliative care doesn’t just provide medical support for physical symptoms.
“We offer a holistic approach – we think about people as people, not just as isolated bits of their body or an illness,” shares Sarah Treaddell.
“We look not just at physical health but at all aspects including psychological and social health. All of those factors make us who we are. In fact you could re-spell the care we give as ‘whole-istic’!”
Belinda adds, “You need to hear and see all the needs of this patient and aim to address all of them. There is no single person in the team who can do this on their own. Patients may need a doctor’s input, but they also need different relationships and support. They might be more comfortable confiding in a volunteer who brings a cup of tea than a nurse or a doctor. Many staff have their own stories of suffering or loss and these inspire the comfort they are able to offer.
“There is a rich tapestry of experience and skill in the wider team and that is what makes it a unique place to practise medicine.”
In fact, there is a huge amount of collaborative working amongst the different hospice teams to deliver the care Sue Ryder is so well known for.
“It is a team approach here. We work really closely with all members of the hospice team with one common goal – to help our patients achieve what matters to them,” says Caroline.
“We make medical assessments, examine and prescribe and work closely with the hospice multidisciplinary team including our physiotherapist, occupational therapist, chaplain, complementary therapist, family support team, nurses and health care assistants,” adds Belinda. “It is not hierarchical here – everyone on the team is important and everyone has something to contribute. I like that we all depend on each other to provide the care patients need.”
Sarah Treadwell agrees, “We have more time here to really get to know your patients and what matters to them. I really see his as the main advantage of palliative medicine. There is so much support across the entire team too. We need each other with the job we do and we get a lot of support.”
Caroline describes a typical day as a palliative care specialty doctor in more detail – but says no two days are the same.
“We spend a lot of time establishing what is happening for a patient, what the story is, how the symptoms and illness fit together and what the issues and challenges are. We take the time to find out what is important to them and their family and we adjust the medical plan and medication to try and meet their needs.
“We do all we can to make inroads into the symptom control needs a patient may have – be that pain, vomiting, fatigue, bowel obstruction…
“We look to see if we can add, change or reduce and even sometimes completely reinvent the cocktail of medication a patient receives to help improve the symptoms which are preventing them from living well at that time.”
Looking to the future, Sarah Treadwell hopes that the benefits of palliative medicine will be easily accessible to more people “Looking to the future I really feel palliative care will see an increased focus on helping people who are dying from complex symptoms at home,” she says. “As this develops, I really hope palliative care will become more widely accessible to different groups of people too.”
Finally, Belinda adds, “Medicine, and palliative care in particular, are extraordinary jobs.
Patients offer us their trust and let us into their lives at their most difficult times. Not everyone would want this task. It requires boldness to step into spaces where others might fear to tread. The conversations we have with patients are truly honest, and intimate without being personal. This is a privilege and there is nothing else like it – ordinary life can seem very pale by comparison”.
Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice provides expert and compassionate palliative care and bereavement support to people living in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire and parts of Lincolnshire. To be referred, speak to your GP, specialist nurse or lead healthcare professional who can refer you.
For more information visit www.sueryder.org/thorpehall
Lead Photo: Sarah Treadwell
About Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice
- Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice is the only specialist palliative care inpatient unit in Peterborough.
- We provide expert palliative care and support for people who are living with life-limiting conditions, as well as supporting their families.
- Our multi-disciplinary team includes doctors, nurses, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, complementary therapy, bereavement counsellors, and psychological and spiritual support.
- We also offer a variety of other services, including aHospice at Home service for people who prefer to receive palliative care at home, family and bereavement support, complementary therapies and spiritual care.
- Our staff and volunteers provide people with the compassion and expert care they need, to help them live the best life they can.