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New specialist Palliative Care Unit opens in Northumberland

Friday, 11 July, 2014
New specialist Palliative Care Unit opens in Northumberland

A new specialist Palliative Care Unit has today been opened at Wansbeck General Hospital by Her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland. 

Providing specialist care for patients suffering life limiting illnesses and who may be nearing the end of life, the unit is one of only two in the north east to provide dedicated palliative care facilities in an acute hospital setting – both units are part of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. 

The Wansbeck Palliative Care Unit includes 20 inpatient beds – including five single en-suite bedrooms.  It means for the first time, specialist palliative care doctors and nurses at Wansbeck will be working in a dedicated facility to improve quality of life for patients living with a life limiting illness.

Patients will be admitted to improve difficult symptom problems, complex psychosocial issues or because they are approaching the end of life and would prefer to be in a specialist palliative care setting.

Providing relief from pain and other distressing symptoms, the team will support patients to live as actively as possible and support families to cope with their loved one’s illness.  The team have all specifically chosen to work in palliative care and will work with both patients and families to discuss their care preferences and ensure they achieve their goals, as well as helping families cope with their own bereavement.

Patients requiring palliative care are often admitted to hospital, usually via A&E, or by their GP, district nurse or Macmillan nurse and are usually cared for on general wards.  Prior to the Wansbeck Palliative Care Unit opening, there were no specialist palliative care inpatient facilities in Northumberland. 

The new inpatient unit works alongside existing community palliative care teams across North Tyneside and Northumberland and means patients can get home quickly thanks to a rapid discharge service. Equally, patients can be admitted directly to the unit, by passing an unnecessary admission via A&E.

In addition to the new specialist Palliative Care Unit at Wansbeck General Hospital, families can also use the dedicated ‘Oasis Suite’* to stay close to loved ones at the end of life.  The suite provides a peaceful space away from the ward, with facilities for families to stay overnight at the hospital – particularly beneficial for family members who may live further away.

Dr Paul Paes, Consultant in Palliative Medicine and Head of the Palliative Care Service at Northumbria Healthcare, said: “Providing the right care, support and dignity at the end of life is crucially important for each and every patient, not only for the individual person but also for the family left behind.

“We’re delighted that the Duchess has taken time out to recognise this important area of work and the fantastic new facility we have at Wansbeck.  With a dedicated unit for the whole hospital and community, we can make sure patients get the highest possible quality of palliative care, as well as supporting families at a very difficult time to make sure their hopes and wishes are achieved.”

Commenting on the opening, The Duchess said: “Looking after people well towards the very end of life is central to dignified care and I am very proud to open such a fantastic facility for people in Northumberland.

“Death is something which touches each and every one of us but is something we often do not talk about until we are faced with it personally.  The skills and expertise of staff on the unit are really quite incredible – not only in caring for the patients to give the best possible quality of life, but also looking after the emotional and psychological needs of families too.”

The Wansbeck Palliative Care Unit is staffed by a multi-professional team, all of whom have a special interest in palliative care, including specialist nurses and consultants, junior doctors, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, pharmacists and social care staff. The team work closely to coordinate the best possible palliative care and make sure patients’ wishes are followed.

Dr Paes added: “Patient choice is absolutely imperative to the work on our Palliative Care Units at Wansbeck and North Tyneside and this may include opening up a dialogue with patients and families about how we can make those precious final days as comfortable as possible and, equally, talking about where people wish to die.

“Our nurses are highly skilled in communicating in these sensitive subjects and our dedicated facility means that patients’ wishes can be followed, whether they wish to die in hospital, at home or in another setting.”

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust opened the first dedicated hospital based inpatient Palliative Care Unit in the region at North Tyneside General Hospital in 2009.  Both are completely new innovative models of delivering inpatient palliative care in hospital with no other similar units in the region.

The Trust now has a team of eight specialist palliative care consultants and 17 clinical nurse specialists recruited especially to work with patients and families at the end of life to provide expert care and advice.  They care for patients with a variety of illnesses such as cancer, heart failure and neurological conditions, both in hospital and the community.

Both inpatient Palliative Care Units are supported by community palliative care teams in North Tyneside and throughout Northumberland who offer a similar service for patients in the comfort of their own home.

Commenting on the opening, Councillor Ian Lindley of Northumberland County Council who is Executive Member for Adult Care and Wellbeing, said:

“This unit will be a credit to our county, providing loving, respectful care for our people at this stage of their life journeys. It is important for all of us to feel we have as much control as possible, especially over the way we can manage our weakest times. This unit can provide the right care and support; from the time of diagnosis, and throughout the course of any illness. I will expect this unit to provide our people with the best possible care.”