St Joseph’s Hospice: Reaching out to the East End

With an aging population and rising cancer rates, hospices are currently high on the political agenda. Over the next few weeks the Advertiser will be focusing on the work that St Joseph’s in Mare Street is doing to prepare us for a population that will increasingly depend on its services.

Breaking the stigma around hospices is one of St Joseph’s main challenges and in recent years it has upped the effort to reach out to its diverse community.

Persuading the East End’s religious groups that the hospice can meet their spiritual, dietary and practical needs, along with expanding the volunteering pool to include representatives from all communities are where much of the endeavours are focused.

On the latter, St Joseph’s has set itself a target to increase the number of volunteers from 300 to 1,000 in the next few years.

All volunteers get training and their roles range from helping to fill in forms for those needing end of life care to regular visits and help with the shopping.

Sarah Burnard, manager of information service Finding Space, believes, as we face an ageing population, these relationships will become “increasingly important”.

She said: “A lot of people who have life limiting illnesses are very socially isolated.

Most Read

“With volunteering, there are people who want help others in need but haven’t got a clue what to do. They need to be empowered and trained.”

There are also plans to work more with schools and businesses to dispel myths that hospices only deal with people with cancer and to show the wide variety of services available, many of which can be administered in the home.

With the added complexity of east London’s diverse community, open days for religious groups are also commonplace.

St Joseph’s chief executive Michael Kerin said: “If people want a religious leader to come here we encourage it. But we try to avoid giving people labels as Islam, Christianity and Judaism have a variety of different practices and beliefs within them.”

And far from accepting the status quo on the processes put in place after death, hospices are leading the way for change.

Issues around post mortems are a particular problem for the Muslim community as it is preferable to bury the body as quickly as possible.

Dr Heather Richardson, clinical director at St Joseph’s, said: “I’d like to see a review into whether all post mortems done are done are necessary and whether there could be more flexibility for people whose religious beliefs find them absolutely abhorrent. MRI scans are possible in some cases but families aren’t always offered the option.”

In May, a joint open day between the hospice and the London Muslim Centre was held and much of the talk was around encouraging coroners to opt for less intrusive procedures in administering death certificates.