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Julie Broomhead has been supporting Ashgate Hospice patients on the Inpatient Unit and at home for 17 years. Here she shares what she gets up to…
My role at Ashgate as a Palliative Care Social Worker involves me supporting patients in the community and on our Inpatient Unit. Patients with a palliative or end of life diagnosis and their families often go through very extreme challenges – from mental health struggles to social isolation – which add to the emotional weight of navigating a life-limiting illness in the first place. It is my responsibility to guide patients and families through these challenges and identity opportunities to make the incredibly difficult process that little bit easier. From helping families navigate their lives following the death of a loved one to ensuring patients who are nearing the end of their life understand how we can help them – every day is different and it’s so rewarding knowing our breadth of skills and knowledge can make such a difference to patients and their families, as well as our colleagues too.
Morning – supporting a bereaved family member
Today, my day started at 8am after I received an SOS text message from a bereaved woman who had been struggling with anxiety and trauma following the complex death of her husband. I gave her a call and spent 20 minutes on the phone with her, talking her through the situation and calming her down. It was reassuring to know she felt better following our conversation.
At 9am, I attended the handover with our Inpatient Unit team where they discuss everything that’s happened during the night. There are 13 patients on the ward at the moment – three of which I’ve cared for previously. I’m able to share some useful information to the doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants, so they’re able to understand the patients better and care for them holistically. Sadly, I found out that one of the patients I’d cared for previously had died this week. It was sad to hear but being based at the hospice meant I could see her family straight away should they need any support.
As soon as this meeting finishes, I’m straight into the Community Nursing Specialists team meeting to offer similar assistant to support patients who are receiving care in their homes. Surprisingly most of the people we speak to have no idea that Ashgate supports people 1,000 miles across North Derbyshire, and the majority of our patients never actually set foot in the hospice. I have been supporting a woman whose dad died on our Inpatient Unit nine months ago, who is now sadly very ill herself. In the meeting I was able to ensure that she was receiving the best medical support and inform my colleagues of the history to help them better understand her. This could avoid the need of unnecessary repeat assessments, which she may be too ill to face.
Mid-morning – building trust with a patient
At 11am, I head out to support our patient John, and his wife Mary, who were referred to me by a colleague. John has a brain tumour, which affects his mood, memory and temper. I spent two hours with them going through the various problems – as John perceives them – and using my experience and skills to support them in the best way possible. I identified a charity who could potentially provide John with a chair and some personal items he needed. I also agreed to find out whether he would meet the medical criteria for fast-track benefits and to refer him to my welfare rights colleague for further help to improve his finances. Following our meeting, I felt I’d developed a trusting relationship with John as he felt he had been listened to. We strive to give patients control over their own lives and work with them to achieve what they need. As well as getting John the help he needed, the intervention took a lot of pressure off his wife who was bearing the brunt of his frustrations for which she was most grateful.
Afternoon – supporting patients on our Inpatient Unit
After lunchtime, I was back at the hospice and needed to take a Lateral Flow Test before heading onto the Inpatient Unit. This time I was visiting a patient who I have known for around six months, who is desperate to go home. It’s important that I do everything I can to help her keep her spirits up and assure her that we are doing everything we can to speed up the process of getting the right equipment and services she needs. This can sometimes be a problem for patients as getting services in place can often take some time depending on the area and availability.
While I’m on the ward, I take the time to catch up with the medical staff to see that they’re coping okay and check whether any new patients may need our services. I also love to catch with our volunteers who do such an amazing job! Ashgate is such a lovely setting to work in and all the staff do their best for the patients and each other. The work we do is so vital; everyone is so invested in pushing for the best palliative and end of life care possible.
Evening – back to the office
As my day nears an end around 4.30, I head back to my office and spend the next hour or so going through my caseload to make sure that none of our patients have been missed. It’s important that I’ve done everything I had promised I was going to do and see if I’ve been referred to any new patients. Home time for me usually comes when I’ve run out of steam and feel like I’ve covered all the necessary tasks!
My favourite part of the job is getting to know our patients and gaining their trust in order to achieve the best outcomes for them. There’s so many amazingly, talented people at Ashgate, so there will always be someone I can call on to get the patients the care and support that they need. I’ve been at Ashgate 17 years now and I love working here. Every aspect of my job is rewarding and knowing I’m making a significant different to people’s lives is the most important thing for me. My friends and family call me an ‘angel’, which is fine by me – I just hope they don’t blow my cover!