At a recent National EOLC Programme Board we heard the findings from a research study exploring ways in which staff awareness and practice can be improved to identify and improve services for people who may be in their last year of life.
While evidence-based findings are always welcome, the report’s recommendations on how the NHS and its partners should deliver improvements were somewhat disappointing. The report calls for improved communication skills at all levels within the workforce, making conversations more grounded in personal needs, whilst acknowledging the importance of ongoing support services for people who may be left behind. Not ground-breaking findings when I have been campaigning for these improvements for over ten years!
My campaigning drive has been primarily from a carer’s perspective following the deaths of my mum and dad. However, that dramatically changed quite recently when I received my cancer diagnosis. My journey to this diagnosis started with a gastroscopy, which found a nasty lump in my oesophagus. One week later I had a CT and PET scan and the week after that I met with a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) to discuss my treatment options. I have been fortunate in relation to my recent journey as this is how things should happen and in my case are happening.
Having jointly agreed a treatment plan, I started my treatment in the Chemotherapy Day Unit where the facilities, processes and person-centred approach are exceptional. The communication skills of the practitioners I have met, from receptionist through to consultant have been first class. Does that mean there is no more to be done? Of course not, but we must make sure to embed compassion, respect, clarity of language and dignified treatment into any skills-based training from the start. I have been a social worker for over 30 years and still clearly remember how these principles informed my training all those years ago and what a positive impact they can have when you are on the receiving side of a diagnosis and treatment.
As I have noted in previous blogs, this is not rocket science. Senior managers and executives have an intrinsic responsibility to create an environment and culture which values the workforce and equips it to respond best to those they serve: the public. These services must be tailored to the needs of the individual while simultaneously supporting their family.
All roles within health and social care have different skills needed to do their job well. We, as recipients of their care, must also recognise how difficult it must be for them to pass on difficult news. My mum and dad instilled in me from an early age the need to respect my elders and treat others how I would want to be treated. Mutual respect and compassion are key and have always and continue to serve me well.
It is four years since the launch of the Ambitions Partnership. At the last meeting we discussed its future role and purpose. There continues to be a need to promote early identification of people in their last year of life and the sound principles outlined in the original framework. While acknowledging the improvements achieved to date, Partnership members recognised the need to continue to promote and embed the Six Ambitions. There will always be work to be done, but it’s important to celebrate the change in approach that has developed between clinicians and the people they support and treat, together with those who are left behind. A review of the Ambitions Partnership’s work is due and a relaunch later next year is on the cards. This is welcome news and will ensure that the existing change in practice and continuing service improvements will gather strength and pace.