Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice in Peterborough shines a light on its medical team

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The palliative care team don’t just care for patients who are dying, their work goes beyond

Healthcare charity Sue Ryder is shining a light on the vital but sometimes unseen work of its team of specialty doctors and consultants.

The hospice has a team of one medical consultant, four specialty doctors, a number of GP trainees, junior doctors and specialist registrars in training who all help provide specialist palliative medical care.

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“I think if you asked doctors and medical students why they went into medicine they will all say they wanted to help people,” Cambridgeshire-based Dr Sarah Treaddell, who has been with Sue Ryder for three year, said.

Caroline Anson, Sarah Treaddell and Belinda Worsfold.Caroline Anson, Sarah Treaddell and Belinda Worsfold.
Caroline Anson, Sarah Treaddell and Belinda Worsfold.

"I found that palliative care is the place where I really feel I get to do that. This area of medicine is very much about what the patient wants and their needs.”

‘Palliative care more specialist’

Despite the first palliative care consultants only being appointed in 1995, Dr Caroline Anson who has worked at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice for 12 years, 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.

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“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.”

‘We make people’s lives better’

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.

Dr Sarah Treadwell who has been providing medical care at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice for 20 years this year said: “When I tell people where I work they say ‘oh that must be really heartbreaking’, 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.”

“It is really important we think about the language we use when we talk about palliative care,” adds 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. “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.

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“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”.

‘We don’t just care for the imminently dying’

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.”

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.

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“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.”

‘Team approach’

In fact, there is a huge amount of collaborative working among 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,” said 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,” added Belinda.

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‘We do all we can’

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.”

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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 said. “As this develops, I really hope palliative care will become more widely accessible to different groups of people too.”

Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice provides expert and compassionate palliative care and bereavement support to people living in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire and parts of Lincolnshire.