The future today: how technology can help improve end of life care in Somerset

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Joy Milliken, St. Margaret’s Hospice Clinical Director
Joy Milliken, St. Margaret’s Hospice Clinical Director

As Britain’s ageing population grows with  many more of us facing the prospect of dying alone, technological innovations will become increasingly important in the delivery of palliative care in the community.  This will be the focus of the next St Margaret’s Hospice Fit for Future review panel meeting into the delivery of end of life care in the region.

Technology is playing a key role in palliative care, particularly in rural areas. Keeping in touch and exchanging information using technology can reduce crises, provides reassurance and improve the confidence of both patients and carers. Different technological applications can not only monitor patient’s conditions, but can also provide practical remote support.

The Fit for Future review has brought together leading healthcare experts, carers, national charities, families, patient representatives, church leaders, academics, neighbouring hospices and the local authority, to assess the action that is needed now to support palliative care provision in the future.

The review is being chaired by Lord Ashdown, one of St. Margaret’s Vice Presidents. This represents one of the largest community engagement programmes in the country and will provide a blueprint for better and more efficient palliative care for Somerset and beyond.

Views are being sought via a series of community focus groups, a dedicated website, Facebook, Twitter or by contacting the team direct by mail or email.

Speaking at this month’s panel meeting will be Professor Max Watson, medical director of the Northern Ireland Hospice and visiting professor of the University of Ulster. An established author and advisor on end of life care, he has piloted the use of ECHO technology in Northern Ireland.

The ECHO project aims to increase the capacity of specialist community nurses to safely and effectively manage patients with complex illnesses, especially those in remote areas, through educational presentations and case discussions, often online.

Joy Milliken, St. Margaret’s Hospice Clinical Director says: “The role of the hospice community nurse is an increasingly challenging one. The need for care and support is growing and with many patients affected by multiple healthcare issues.

“ECHO allows hospice community nurses to share knowledge and learn together with other community services. Patients therefore benefit as nursing knowledge is strengthened and the care provided is optimised.

“We also need to look at how technology can support patients in their own homes, and are therefore delighted that Professor Watson is coming to share his expertise with us as part of the consultation.”

Somerset is very much in the spotlight when it comes to future healthcare challenges as it has one of the biggest ageing populations in the UK. By 2033, most of the county is likely to have at least 25% of the population over 65 and it is projected that there will be as many people in their 80s as in their 20s (source ONS).

In the next 15 years, it is predicted that, without reform, around 40% of the population will die alone without adequate care and support.

Professor Watson will be joined by Ann Wagner, Director of Strategy and Business Development at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust who will discuss the use of telemedicine in an advice line context, and a specialist in telehealth Dr Karen Wilson, founder and CEO of Healthbox 360.

To have your say in how palliative care could be improved, visit www.fit4future.org.uk, follow the campaign on Twitter @StMargaretsF4TF and like the ‘Fit for Future’ Facebook page. Alternatively, you can email the team at fitforfuture@st-margarets-hospice.org.uk or write to Fit for Future, St. Margaret’s Hospice, Heron Drive, Bishops Hull, Taunton TA1 5HA.

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