PASSING on knowledge and mentoring nurses and doctors to provide the best palliative care possible to patients across Swindon is one of Prospect Hospice’s main priorities.

While the charity looks after more than 2,000 people diagnosed with terminal illnesses at the hospice or in their own homes each year, a large part of its work consists in sharing its expertise with health workers and medical professionals for the benefit of people in care homes or at the hospital.

This training happens in the ‘classroom’, or formal tutorials, at the hospice delivered by education facilitator and former nurse Jill Beckhelling. It is supported by Prospect staff assisting teams in care homes and for example, at the Great Western Hospital.

“Care should be the same wherever it is provided and it is the same for end-of-life care,” she said. “If we want to have equity of service the people who provide the care need to be educated to the same level.

“End-of-life care can only grow and we have already seen growth in the last two years. Care homes are flooded with end-of-life care but staff don’t have the skills to actively look after them.

“We train professionals, nurses, physiotherapists, GPs in the community and occupational therapists, care homes, health care assistants and people working from agencies like SEQOL – just anyone providing end-of-life care.”

Education involves teaching or bringing health professionals up-to-date with palliative care, managing symptoms, providing psychological support to terminally-ill people and their families and learning how to cope with the prospect of soon losing a patient.

“It’s often how to provide care in the last few days of life that people worry about,” added Jill. “They worry about talking to and approaching people. Understanding how to talk to somebody when they are dying is very hard but communication is vital. That’s why we run study days and formalised training. Then we have nurses supporting staff in care homes and hospitals. That bedside teaching works well.

“We don’t want to tell people what to do but to engage them in what we do. And we want to reach out to more agencies and care homes in the future.”

She added: “End-of-life care is still a subject people don’t understand. Some people think of it as dying but end-of-life care can extend life by one or two years and it doesn’t mean that a person is dying at that particular time. That’s why we need to educate people – to support the patient.”

Prospect’s education programme has proved a welcome boost for many organisations over the years.

Jeremy Wicks, education administrator, said: “Over the last year we have had really good feedback and that shows how relevant the courses are to their work. As the education team, we are not on the frontline but we suppor clinical and nursing staff. The more people we can train and influence the better end-of-life care will be.”

And training is not only for healthcare professionals outside of Prospect but for the hospice’s own team.

Jill said: “A big part of what we do is educating our own staff. When new staff come in they may not have much experience of palliative care, so they enter our education programme and there are various one-day sessions as well.

“And we build our staff’s confidence to help others provide end-of-life care in the community.”