Trust trials Marie Curie HCAs in emergency department

Specialist palliative care healthcare assistants (HCAs) are being piloted at the emergency department of an NHS trust in England, to support patients at the end of their life and free up other members of staff.

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, since February, has had a team of Marie Curie HCAs working in its emergency department, specifically to improve the palliative care experience in an otherwise busy, noisy and potentially distressing area of a hospital.

“They sit alongside the families in the storm of ED and provide calm”

Ali Griffiths

The palliative care HCAs have been performing duties such as symptom management, moving and repositioning, mouth care – as well as other typical support worker roles such as personal care.

Further, they provide emotional support to patients and their families.

The HCAs work alongside other charity-supported roles in the emergency department.

Specialist nurse Ali Griffiths is an Macmillan emergency department end-of-life practitioner at University Hospitals Plymouth and she praised the new HCA scheme.

“The emergency department is a tense, busy, noisy environment, and having our Marie Curie colleagues working alongside us allows us to provide additional support, delivered with love and compassion,” said Ms Griffiths.

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She said the HCAs helped “de-medicalise” end-of-life patients and their lack of clinical responsibility for them meant they could prioritise their wellbeing.

“They sit alongside the families in the storm of ED and provide calm,” she added.

In the four months since the HCAs were added to the department, they have already had a significant impact on the quality of care, said end-of-life lead at the trust, Shaen Milward.

Mr Milward added: “Our combined end-of-life team at [University Hospitals Plymouth] works so hard.

“They are really special people who provide outstanding care to patients at the end of their lives.

“These inspirational staff have significantly impacted experience of end-of-life care in the emergency department.”

A knock-on effect of the HCAs’ work, the trust said, was that they helped free up nurses and other emergency department staff to focus on treating other patients.

Karen Burfitt, Marie Curie associate director of strategic partnerships and services in the South West, said the specialists had “undoubtedly” improved end-of-life care in Plymouth.

She added: “This service demonstrates working in partnership at its very best and I’m delighted that Marie Curie has shown the ability to be responsive and adaptable to the needs of the local healthcare system.”

Heather Major, the daughter of a man admitted to the hospital’s emergency department earlier this year, said she “can’t fault” the Marie Curie HCAs who looked after her father.

“They were very supportive, and they explained everything to us,” Ms Major said.

“I’ve worked in nursing for over 30 years and currently I work in a care home with lots of end-of-life patients, so I knew roughly what to expect, but even still, it’s very different when it’s someone you love.

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“They made us feel like Dad was special.”

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