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Marie Curie HCAs support end of life patients in UHP’s Emergency Department

Group shot of the end of life HCAs and practitioners

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHP) now has Marie Curie healthcare assistants (HCAs) working in the Emergency Department (ED).

A team of healthcare assistants (HCAs) from the UKs leading end of life charity, Marie Curie, are now working in the Emergency Department to provide supportive clinical care, emotional support, and a listening ear to ensure that patients are not alone at end of life.

The pilot, designed to improve the experiences of palliative and end of life patients in the Emergency Department (ED), has been running since February 2024 and has already had a positive impact on staff, patients, carers and families.

The new team is working alongside the existing UHP registered specialist end of life care staff. Group shot of the end of life HCAs and practitioners

Ali Griffiths, Macmillan Emergency Department End of Life Practitioner, praised the Marie Curie HCAs for the difference they make to families: “The Emergency Department is a tense, busy, noisy environment, and having our Marie Curie colleagues working alongside us allows us to provide additional support, delivered with love and compassion.

“The Marie Curie team helps to de-medicalise the patient and allow their loved ones to spend time together, without the clinical responsibility of their care. They sit alongside the families in the storm of ED and provide calm.”

The care that the Marie Curie HCAs provide includes symptom management, personal care, mouth care and moving and repositioning patients to ensure they are as comfortable as possible. They also provide valuable emotional support to patients and their families.

Their care supports dignified, high-quality end of life care in an otherwise stressful environment.  

Shaen Milward, Trust End of Life Lead, said: “Our combined End of Life team at UHP works so hard. They are really special people who provide outstanding care to patients at the end of their lives. These inspirational staff have significantly impacted experience of end of life care in the Emergency Department.”

Heather Major, whose father was admitted to UHP’s ED earlier this year, reflects on the service and the difference the HCAs made to her father’s care, and her family’s experience: “I can’t fault the Marie Curie healthcare assistants. They were very supportive, and they explained everything to us. I’ve worked in nursing for over 30 years and currently I work in a care home with lots of end of life patients so I knew roughly what to expect, but even still, it’s very different when it’s someone you love.  

“They made us feel like Dad was special. Along with the ED Palliative Care team, they asked us what we wanted to happen next. They explained that Dad was really poorly and what our options were. We decided we’d like him to be moved to Mount Gould, and they made that happen. Thanks to them he had the death he deserved, being cared for and treated with dignity.”

This service has also had a positive impact on the staff members in the ED, with the Marie Curie HCAs alleviating pressure on ED colleagues, allowing them to provide care to other patients whilst ensuring that those on end of life care are given the treatment and attention that they require.  

Karen Burfitt, Marie Curie Associate Director Strategic Partnerships and Services South West, said: “Our vision at Marie Curie is a better end of life for all – we believe everyone deserves the best end of life experience possible, regardless of where they die.

“Having specialist Marie Curie care available within the busy Emergency Department at UHP has undoubtedly improved the experience of those who die or spend time there in their final weeks and days of life.

“This service demonstrates working in partnership at its very best and I’m delighted that Marie Curie has shown the ability to be responsive and adaptable to the needs of the local healthcare system.”

If you’re living with a terminal illness or have been affected by dying, death and bereavement, Marie Curie can help. Visit mariecurie.org.uk or call the free Marie Curie Support Line on 0800 090 2309 or email support@mariecurie.org.uk.


Image credit to John Allen Photography, 2024. 

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