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How hospice is moving with the times to serve the community

PUBLISHED: 07:00 15 July 2011

Shaykh Abdul Qayum, chief imam at the East London Mosque with Michael Kerin at St Joseph's Hospice

Shaykh Abdul Qayum, chief imam at the East London Mosque with Michael Kerin at St Joseph's Hospice

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»At a time when virtually every area of healthcare is under pressure to cut back, hospices find themselves "high on the political agenda", an East End health chief has said.

With an ageing population and medical advancements prolonging the lives of many with grave illnesses, the government is reassessing the role that hospices play.

As an early pioneer in its field, St Joseph’s in Mare Street provides a prime example of how these institutions have evolved to meet the needs of increasingly diverse communities.

“Hospices are definitely going up in the political agenda,” St Joseph’s chief executive Michael Kerin said.

“What’s interesting is hospices offer a level and continuity of care that is beyond what people might expect from the state.”

Forerunner

With its 100-year history, St Joseph’s – which serves Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham – has long been a forerunner in the hospice movement.

In May, care services minister Paul Burstow visited the hospice’s new community lounge and gardens and spoke to patients and staff about their experiences and thoughts on the controversial NHS reforms.

While he credited the hospice for the “fantastic facilities” offered, the government is well aware that the hospice movement generally is in need of far more attention.

On July 1, the Department of Health launched a report into the way hospices are funded and supported.

Hospice groups agree, arguing that the system across the country is “patchy and inconsistent” and they are pushing for more concrete support from the government.

St Joseph’s has a relatively secure funding stream with 60 per cent of its budget provided by the NHS – more than many institutions.

But it still has to find the remaining 40 per cent from fundraising, in a financially volatile climate.

David Praill, chief executive of umbrella group Help the Hospices, said: “For too long the voluntary sector has filled major gaps in the provision of palliative care and it’s about time hospices and other charities were recognised for the vital role they play.”

But despite the government holding back in past years, hospices themselves have risen to the challenge of understanding their changing communities and helping allay misconceptions.

In recent years St Joseph’s has dedicated much time and effort to link up with religious organisations like the East London Mosque and synagogues, in a bid to dispel myths about how it operates.

Rest assured

Two months ago it held a joint open day at the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel Road and imams and rabbis spoke.

Chief imam at the East London Mosque, ShaykhAbdul Qayum, urged the Muslim community to rest assured that their needs would be met by the hospice.

Mr Kerin said: “You don’t have to be a Christian or Catholic to come here. With some communities in the East End, we have the fundamental issue of explaining what hospices do. In Bengali there’s no word for hospice. Some think of it like a hospital or busy A&E department. That’s why we try and invite as many people as possible to come here.”

The hospice offers halal and kosher meals and also encourages religious leaders to visit patients who request it.

Mr Kerin said people are also often surprised at the treatments offered.

“It’s a myth that hospices only deal with people with cancer. Heart failure is a big problem in the East End and there have been steps in that area. As a society we directly experience death less than previous generations. People often don’t know about what’s involved when someone dies or the impact bereavement can have.”

While hospices are mostly associated with end of life care, medical advancements mean many are living for years with life-threatening illnesses and some have grown up in the hospice system.

Much care is provided at home too – something users and the families of those with terminal illnesses said they wanted to see more of.

Around 20 home visits are made each day by the palliative care team and last year almost 1,000 people were given access to specialist nurses, doctors and social workers outside of the hospice.

Much of the work St Joseph’s does is with families and it recently set up a new information service, Finding Space, offering advice and help to carers.

To do all this, help is needed from the community and the fundraising team has been coming up with more memorable ways to raise cash like the upcoming vintage midnight walk.

For details of how to get involved go to stjh.org.uk

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