WALKING the halls of the Great Western Hospital, you might be surprised to find Prospect Hospice nurses assisting staff, supporting patients and sharing valuable advice on palliative care.

But the charity’s work at hospital is as crucial as its nursing team’s task in the hospice’s day service, in-patient unit or out in the community.

A total of four Prospect nurses – soon to be five – are based there on a permanent basis to aid doctors and nurses, and of course patients, with anything from symptom and pain management, to emotional support, and to bring a different perspective to ward staff on end-of-life care.

The team was introduced at the GWH in 2007.

Unlike their colleagues at the hospice, their roles vary slightly and they act more as a support and on occasion mentors to hospital staff faced with the potentially imminent death of a patient and unsure how to treat or make that person as comfortable as possible in the last days of their lives.

“There was a need for someone to be able to influence and shape the experience of palliative care for patients and in 2007 the agreement was made to do this with GWH,” said community specialist nurse Laura Kent.

“We don’t deal with the day-to-day care of these patients. We identify their needs and the needs of their families and work alongside the medical team to advise on medication and symptom management.

“We support the wards and ensure people receive good end-of-life care.

“It’s a good opportunity to work alongside professionals and educate them and hopefully they can take it forward, particularly the junior doctors. They will look to us for advice with treatment.

“It’s bringing the principle of what Prospect does in the in-patient unit to the wards of the hospital.”

By being on call to answer doctors and nurses’ questions and give an insight into the workings of the hospice, the team’s aim is to gradually build staff’s confidence and ensure high standards of end-of-life care. This can take the form of informal one-on-one help on a case by case basis or conferences and courses run at the hospital’s Academy.

“We try to instill confidence in staff,” said Petrena Hefferman, a community nurse specialist based at GWH. “It’s about changing gears in palliative care.

“It’s also about maybe shifting the focus. GWH is an acute environment where it’s about improving everything through active treatment. Our approach is looking at things in a different way. Maybe not actually curing the illness if it is not going to get any better,but talking to the patient about what they want. It’s a palliative approach. Our priority is the patient and their needs, what they want.”

Imparting knowledge and working to constantly raise the standards of palliative care has proved immensely rewarding for the nurses.

“Being able to help manage someone’s pain, get their nausea under control, and make them feel comfortable, able to eat and drink again gives you a lot of satisfaction,” added Lynne Coyne, community nurse specialist.

“When you do study days and doctors use their initiative or take that advice and knowledge forward, patients’ experience is enhanced by it. We hope we can continue to be able to influence staff,” added Laura.