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End of life care in North Dartmoor Communities

 

For the last 35 years, local charity Hospiscare has supported people diagnosed with any type of life-limiting illness, and their families.  The organisation covers Exeter, Mid and East Devon, which includes North Dartmoor from Highampton to Lustleigh, and from Lydford to the Teign Valley.

Covering the rural areas within a 20 mile radius of Okehampton is a dedicated team of two Hospiscare Clinical Nurse Specialists, Gay Hill and Clare Selley. They both work part-time as part of the Mid Devon Team to provide cover seven days per week, and the charity also runs an overnight support line providing advice out of hours.

Gay, from Chagford, has been working for the charity for the past 25 years, and has given an insight into a typical day.

Gay explains: “Clare and I are never working at the same time, so whoever is on duty will start the day just after 8am.  It begins with a quick visit to our office in Okehampton Hospital to take phone calls from patients between 8:30am and 10:00am.

"Although we don’t work the same shifts we make sure we both meet all our patients, so they get to know us and we’re not strangers to them."

“We’re currently caring for 65 patients and can run a maximum case load of 70, so we are always close to capacity.

“At 10am I hit the road, and then I’m out all day visiting patients in their homes.  In between visits I access messages on my mobile (when I have a signal), and I can cover anywhere from 40 to 80 miles.  The rural nature of our patch means we can be bumping down long muddy tracks and lanes to isolated farm houses, so it can take a while to get around, but on average I see five to six patients each day.  We are also part of Hospiscare’s Mid Devon team, the HQ for that is at Pine Lodge in Tiverton, so sometimes we are over that way too.

“We work well with the District Nurses, GPs, Occupational Therapists and other healthcare professionals.  I always explain to patients that we don’t do the ‘hands on’ nursing, the District Nurses do things like taking blood and changing catheters and dressings. Hospiscare Nurses give specialist care and look after symptom and pain control.  We provide social, emotional and psychological care and support for the patient and family as well.

“We have a carers’ group which meets on the first Thursday of every month in Whiddon Down Village Hall, and either Clare or I always try to attend.  It’s an opportunity for carers to share stories or concerns. This time of year they will make Christmas decorations and support each other in preparing for Christmas.

“I love my job! It’s a great privilege to go into patients’ homes at a time when they are vulnerable, and gain their trust. Close relationships are quickly formed and patients let us into their lives."

"Often patients will tell Clare and I different things. We only share information if it impacts on their care.  I get to hear people’s life stories and our patients and families are lovely.  Their approach to the end of their lives is always personal.  I have patients in their 90s who want treatment at any price and then there are others who don’t want treatment at all. Our patients are all individual and are encouraged to do what is right for them, and you can’t walk in someone else’s shoes. It is important that they are fully informed so that they are able to do it their way.

“I usually get back to the office around 5:30pm, or I may type up my notes remotely on my laptop, depending on where my last patient of the day is, then go home. "

"A large proportion of the patients in our area prefer to die at home. I feel very lucky to have spent the last 25 years supporting local people to achieve that.”

Hospiscare is a local adult hospice charity, providing free, high quality care and support to people with any type of terminal illness, and those close to them, in Exeter, Mid and East Devon.  A gift to Hospiscare in your Will helps to ensure the future of the charity in Devon for generations to come.