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“The hospice’s Virtual Ward meant my wife Carole died in the home she loved with her husband by her side.”
Carole Lowry was one of the first patients to access Ashgate Hospice’s Virtual Ward – a new service that offers safe and convenient palliative and end of life care in the place they call home, rather than at a hospital or the hospice.
The former English teacher, from Dronfield, had been diagnosed with cancer of the fallopian tube during the lockdown in 2020.
Despite her determination to undergo numerous treatments, the disease spread to other parts of her body, and she died earlier this year under the care of the hospice’s Virtual Ward team, aged 79.
Her husband, Peter Lowry, 78, has praised the “kindness and dedication” of nurses Amanda Hall and Sophie Dudley, who lead the service, as well as other staff who cared for his family during one of the most difficult times in their lives.
“Carole had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and reached the stage where no further treatment was possible,” said Peter, a former deputy head teacher.
“Without hesitation she came to the decision that at the end of her life she wanted to remain at home; I felt relieved knowing she ended up in the right hands.
“I know that when Carole died she was peaceful, pain free and in the place that she wanted to be.
“That was because of the hospice’s Virtual Ward and its visionary approach to home-based hospice care.
“We felt that the hospice always had time for us. The support, which sometimes was just praise for the way we were handling it – whether it was a hug, a phone call or a visit made all the difference.
“I can’t thank Ashgate enough for its kindness and dedication.”
The couple, who met whilst training to be teachers in Sheffield in the late 1960s, were sports fanatics especially athletics and travelled the world to such places as Berlin, Rome Brussels Oslo, Stockholm, Paris, Moscow, Doha to watch major events.
Peter says Carole was “incredibly brave” and did “everything possible” to overcome the disease.
But when her illness became incurable and she struggled with her symptoms, she went on to receive ward-equivalent care in her own home.
Specialist nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and physios all worked together to assess and support her, while consultants were also on hand for advice and support.
Carole was one of the first patients to access the Virtual Ward service before she died in March, weeks after the initiative had been launched by the hospice.
Peter hopes the service will be available for an increased number of patients in the future.
He added: “I received regular phone calls, visits and Carole’s health was discussed in a very comforting but professional manner.
“Nothing was too much trouble even when medication and equipment needed changing and prescriptions were ordered without the need for me to contact my GP.
“What pleased me a lot was I felt as though it wasn’t just Carole being supported, but I was being thought of too – it was 24-hour care for me and Carole.
“Even after her death, contact from Ashgate was maintained with me and I knew that support was still there.
“I felt very lucky to have had this fantastic resource at home for us and hope that over time it can be developed further so that more people can benefit.”
Since its launch, the Virtual Ward team have worked alongside the Community Nursing Specialists and wider multi-disciplinary team to allow for more than 100 patients to remain at home with complex needs.
The aim of the service is to offer patients the level of care they would receive on the hospice’s Inpatient Unit but in their own homes.
Under the arrangement, teams have access to specialist equipment and both Amanda and Sophie are non-medical prescribers so can prescribe and make medication changes quickly in the home.
The team work alongside support workers Heather Maurice-Smith and Tessa Simon, as well as co-ordinator Julie Boulton to review everyone daily to ensure both the patient and the family’s needs are being met at all times.
Plans are in place for patients to be further supported by digital technology, but this will not replace the face-to-face aspect of their care.
Go to the webpage to find out more about Ashgate Hospice’s Virtual Ward and how its preventing patients from being admitted to hospital.