End of life care

Life at a hospice

Dr Ros Taylor, director of the Hospice of St Francis, Berkhamsted, talks about care at the hospice.

“A big myth about hospices is that people just come here to die. That’s not true. Many patients have several admissions to the hospice, sometimes quite early in their illness, to sort out pain, breathlessness or anxiety. They feel refreshed, live their life and may come back here again when things get worse or if they choose to die here.

"Hospices offer a more holistic style of care. We offer expert medical care, much the same as you would get in hospital, but we also offer psychological and emotional support, and aim to support the family of the patient as well.

Arriving at the hospice

"When a person first arrives at St Francis, we give them a warm welcome. There is a very comprehensive assessment by nurses and doctors to see how the talents of the team can be best used to improve that patient’s life. The team includes doctors, nurses, family therapists, social workers, complementary therapists and our chef.

"We start to have conversations about the future: what’s important to the patient, what would make life easier, what fears need to be addressed, how the family is doing.

"We aim to look after the family, as well as the patient. We help with anticipating loss and thinking about what life will be like after the patient dies.

"Pre-visits can be quite useful – for example, if a patient or their family wants to see the hospice before coming in. People can feel frightened of coming here, but once they've seen the hospice they often lose their fear.

Spending time with loved ones

"We aim for a homely environment. We have individual rooms with en-suite bathrooms, bright colours and carpets, and pictures on the walls. There are no set visiting hours, and people can bring in flowers and pets.

"There have been lots of dogs, and we've even had horses visit. It’s about people bringing their home to the hospice, and having time to spend together. We encourage families to stay over, and to share meals and memories.

"We have a wonderful chef who talks to each patient about what they might like to eat and how to improve their appetite. Not eating can cause conflict in families at a time that is already very difficult.

"Our chef helps to make real food appetising and interesting, and helps families know what to do when they leave the hospice to care for their relative at home.

"Another myth about hospice care is that it only happens in a hospice building. In fact, people can receive hospice care at home, in care homes and in hospitals.

"At St Francis, we look after 300 people a year in our 12-bed building, but we also look after around 450 a year at home and in the community, who never come into the hospice.

What's important

"Hospice care is not just about quality of life, it’s also about giving meaning to the life a person has lived. It’s about talking to people and finding out what's important to them.

"For instance, one man came into the hospice with very severe pain from his prostate cancer. We got on top of his pain in 48 hours, and through talking to him realised that one of his life’s ambitions was to show some of his artwork.

"He’d painted watercolours for 50 years, since winning a paintbox when he was 14. He knew that time was short, and we organised an exhibition at the hospice in one of the public rooms.

"His daughters brought in 40 of his paintings, and people bought some of them. He was there in his bed, and he said at the end of the very busy, emotional afternoon that it had been one of the 'best days of his life'.

"So hospices do ‘extra ordinary’ things – but most of all, they do ordinary things very well.”

Find your local end of life and hospice services.


Page last reviewed: 16/09/2014

Next review due: 30/09/2017

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