August 26, 2008

Charity Offers Caring Hand in Difficult Times

When people think of hospices, the instant image is of a gloomy place where people are sent to die.

Yet this picture - if it ever was accurate - is far from the truth at the hospice in Exeter.

Hospiscare is an Exeter-based charity that offers care and support to people with life-threatening illnesses and those close to them.

At its in-patient unit at the hospice, the atmosphere is far from gloomy. Freshly spruced up with a new wing, the hospice is a cheery place with laughter flowing in the corridors and smiles on faces.

Most importantly, a visit to the hospice is usually a brief, two- way trip.

"This is a short-stay unit," explained Petra Osborne, ward manager of the in-patient unit.

"Half of our patients are discharged under our care, following admissions for symptom control and to address specific issues - the average stay is from 10 days to a fortnight."

The ward has 12 beds and up to six staff on duty.

"We're incredibly lucky to have such a good nurse-to-patient ratio," said Petra, 37.

"It means we have time to listen and to give high standards of care to each patient and their family."

Petra started at the charity in 1996, having previously been a nurse at the adjacent Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital.

"Our medical team, complementary therapists, care managers and the chaplain all meet each morning to discuss and review each patient's needs and care. It's a whole team approach - that's why it works so well," said Petra.

Hospiscare came into existence as a community nursing service for Exeter in 1982. Now with a network of 10 satellite offices across East Devon, it opened the hospice in 1992.

However, the bulk of the charity's clientele are still dealt with at home. Gay Hill, from Chagford, is one of two community clinical managers in charge.

"We are 30 highly qualified nurses working in the community to support patients and their carers with their changes in lifestyle," said Gay, 57, a district nurse for 20 years before joining Hospiscare in 1992.

"We have expertise and knowledge of diseases and pain control and we know where to find information.

"We will advocate day care and complementary therapies and link with the team here."

Outpatients also have regular daily visits to the hospice.

"They come here to the daycare unit for support and to give their carers a break," said daycare sister Shakila Jones, who founded the unit in 1992.

"It gives them something to look forward to. There are relaxation sessions, complementary therapies, hairdressing facilities and general social activities available - all supplied by volunteers."

Shakila had held various sister's posts around the country.

"As a healthcare professional here, you are able to give all the extra things for the quality of life, and working with volunteers enables that," she added.

In overall charge of the volunteer side is Chris Brathwaite, director of supportive care services for the past three years.

"There are over 800 volunteers in my team!" she said.

Volunteers work in the 16 shops or at the hospice, fundraise, visit patients, drive, and offer complementary therapy and counselling.

"Without the volunteers, we couldn't operate anywhere near this capacity, and we always need more," said Chris.

To help Hospiscare, phone 01392 688000.

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