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Friday, 25 July 2014

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‘It is the most horrific time of your life, but they make it bearable’

You never want to use a hospice. “But it is a phenomenal facility and I’m so proud of the work they do,” says Helen Skelton. The daredevil Blue Peter presenter speaks for thousands of Cumbrians and speaks from personal experience.

There is a pride, a respect and a deep-seated affection felt by Cumbrians for the hospices and the work they do.

You can tell by the numbers of people who take part in organised events to raise money and who go to the trouble of arranging their own fundraising trips or stunts to persuade us to donate.

Which is why the news this week that one of Cumbria’s hospices is owed thousands of pounds by would-be fundraisers came as a shock to many.

More than 200 women who took part in a midnight walk still owe £16,000 in promised sponsorship to West Cumbria Hospice at home.

We all know the country is in a major recession and that finances are tightening for all of us, but it was alarming to hear that so much could be owed by so many to such a cherished, well respected and local charity.

Richard Murray, chairman of Hospice at Home Carlisle and North Lakeland, says every penny is needed.

“Almost 80 per cent of our income comes from charitable sources and we have to raise £11,500 a week to keep the charity standing still from what is a relatively small population,” he explains.

The good news is that in recent years the care provided by hospices has gained a higher profile and wider appreciation and more of us now want to help.

“People have more experience of us and what we do and they think ‘it could be me in the future, it is a good charity and one I want to contribute to’ and we have a lot of loyal contributors.”

Mr Murray says the charity spends 80 pence of every pound on patient care and is trying to become even more efficient as greater demands are expected in the future.

“The population is getting increasingly aged and there is a move from central government to base more health services in the community,” he adds.

Helen Skelton knows how much every penny counts.

The patron of the Eden Valley Hospice says: “I have been involved ever since my grandma, Christina, passed away.

“She was ill for a long time. She was there for months, much longer than expected.

“It became her second home and the nurses were unbelievable.

“It is the most horrific time of your life, but they make it bearable.

“A friend of mine’s child went for respite care and I said to the nurses ‘I don’t know how you can do this job, and come in day after day with smiles on your faces and not get depressed, it is the worst job in the world’.

“But they said ‘it is the best job in the world because you are making someone’s final moments the best and that is a great feeling’.

“That takes an amazing amount of character and dedication.

“You never want to use a hospice, but it is a phenomenal facility and I’m so proud of the work they do. People forget that it is charity- funded, the fact that they are even there is amazing.”

Those personal donations are even more important in times of financial hardship.

The NHS contributes roughly 25 per cent of the funding needed by Eden Valley Hospice, a contribution that has not increased over the past three years, according to chief executive Janet Ferguson.

“Most of our funding comes from voluntary giving, we need to raise more than £2m every year.

“We need to be inventive and inspiring in different ways.

“The main thing is to have a variety of fundraising streams.

“Lots of people donate in memoriam, some people make a deliberate choice to buy in our shops or buy our cards.”

The issue of assisted suicide hit the headlines again this week as it was reported that Michael Winner has been looking at ending his life in the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

The 76-year-old former movie director has been told by doctors he has 18 months to live.

Winner told The Times that people should have the choice of ending their own lives but he was put off by the drawn-out process at the euthanasia centre.

Janet Ferguson counters the idea of assisted suicide saying hospice care is about providing a quality of life, not death.

“It is about living, it is about supporting people as best you can so people have the best possible life.”

Mr Murray adds: “Maybe people who seek euthanasia have not had access to the sort of care that might have made the end of their lives more meaningful.

“There is an awful lot you can do to make the end of life a more contented process.”

When you walk through the adult unit at Eden Valley Hospice it doesn’t take long to realise that it isn’t a sombre place.

It’s a caring and friendly rather than a clinical environment.

“Sometimes we’re there just to listen or have a presence and sit with them,” says Louise Wallace, clinical sister. “We are not here to judge.

“At times of stress things can be quite volatile and it’s how you deal with someone who is angry.

“You have to have compassion.”

There are eight single en-suite rooms with a sofa bed and one four-bedded room, all with French windows looking out into the garden, which is looked after by volunteers.

“We know we can’t change what’s going to happen,” staff nurse Anthea Beattie says. “We will all go that extra mile in our jobs.”

Patients are admitted for symptom control including managing pain, nausea and anxiety, planned respite to give the patient’s carers a break and for the last days or weeks of a patient’s life. Support is also offered to their families.

“It helps the patient if they know their family is being looked after,” explains Rebecca Jenkinson, staff nurse.

“It is sad when people die but we are here to help them with that journey.

“It isn’t a journey they’ve chosen and we are there to make it comfortable and dignified for them.

“We’ve got the time to sit with patients if they want.”

Since it opened in 1991 more than 5,000 people have benefited from the care and support of the hospice.

At the beginning, it provided adult day care and then inpatient beds were created.

Last year there were 269 admissions, 55 per cent for symptom management, 30 per cent for end of life and 15 per cent for respite.

In 2000, a children’s hospice opened with two overnight beds and day care but the overnight stay facility had to close due to financial and staffing reasons.

The Jigsaw Appeal raised funds for an expanded service and the Eden House development opened in 2007 to provide full children’s hospice facilities for five beds.

It’s the only children’s hospice in Cumbria.

Rebecca has worked at the Hospice for 20 years and seen changes over that time.

“The Hospice has had to adapt and develop,” she says. “I think advances in technology have meant a lot of people are living longer and we need more complex ways to look after them.

“People with conditions I used to look after in the Hospice are now looked after by their GP and in the community.”

For more information, go to www.evhospice.org.uk www.hospiceathome.co.uk www.hospiceathomewestcumbria. org.uk/

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