End of year reflections by Verena, our Training Coordinator

It will soon be a year since our End of our End of Life Rights Advocacy Project was launched and as work starts to wind down in preparation for the festive period, I have been inevitably evaluating what we have achieved during the past twelve months.  Last week I ran a ‘refresher’ workshop around end of Life Rights for Newham Community Mental Health Team for older people.  Verena HewatThe staff there have been especially supportive of the project.

I have run several training sessions for them and also been invited to attend information sessions for carers. They were, in fact, the first NHS team that I met when I first began working for Compassion in Dying.  They provide psychiatric and social needs assessment, intervention and treatment service to older people with mental health problems by engaging and supporting service users, their carers and families. The service is multi-disciplinary, staffed by community mental health nurses, social workers, an occupational therapist, psychologists, psychiatrists and support workers so there is a diverse range of experience in terms of engaging with older people across the borough.

It was interesting speaking to staff about their experiences since we last met.  I have certainly noticed a shift in attitudes and this is mainly credit to a senior member of staff who has embraced the project from the start and has ensured that End of Life Rights is something that has continued to be on the radar of her staff since we first met.  This is another example of the importance of senior staff’s ‘buy in’ in terms of change of culture within organisations. Staff certainly seem much more at ease and confident with the subject matter which is great to see!

However it has not all been as easy as this. It has sometimes been very tough trying to engage people who do not see Advance Planning for end of Life Care or a priority, there has been occasional tears from the sensitivity of the subject matter,  hostility from people who may not understand the nature of the project  and sometimes, just general apathy. But in spite of this we have made huge progress.

At the end of the session I was approached by a member of staff who wanted to let me know that one of her clients had been supported to fill in an Advance Decision by an advocate from the Age UK East London Advocacy Team, how impressed she was with the service and how grateful she was for the help. Its stories like these that make it all worthwhile!

‘’The End of Life Rights Advocacy project is important as it works to highlight end of life rights for everyone to try to ensure that people are treated with compassion and dignity at the end of their lives and according to their wishes. It helps to empower people to make the decisions they want about the care they’ll receive at the end of their lives so as to try to facilitate a good death. Many people that I work with feel frightened about what will happen to them at the end of their lives and feel powerless to have their wishes and voices heard about their end of life care wishes. This project brings these issues to the forefront of professional and personal care in a respectful and inclusive manner, thereby reducing stigma and improving choice around end of life issue.’’

Dr. Michelle Hamill,
Deputy Head of Clinical Psychology,
Mental Health Care of Older People,
East London NHS Foundation Trust