Palliative Care NSW Volunteer Support Services Programme
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Compassionate communities – Severn Hospice

Severn Hospice is an independent charity largely supported by public fundraising. It provides end-of-life care for people living with complex and progressive illnesses, offering support, help and counselling to their families, friends and carers. Severn Hospice provides care at three hospice units in Shropshire and North Powys (West Midlands and central Wales).

It’s first facility was opened in 1989. Since then it has helped more than 21,000 patients and presently cares for approximately 2,800 patients each year.

Severn Hospice works in partnership with communities to develop their own supportive networks.

It aims to reduce isolation by keeping people connected to their communities. This is known as compassionate communities or Co-Co.

Severn Hospice works with GP practices within its’ catchment area, and the GPs work with the volunteers. The role of Severn Hospice is to ‘be invited to help’ and then provide support to GPs as they support new volunteer cohorts.

The volunteers aren’t focussed on palliative care only – their specific focus is reducing isolation. But often they are working with bereaved wives and husbands now living alone.

Is the program successful? Perhaps the most striking impact of the program was indicated in data from the NHS for each catchment in which a volunteer service was commenced.

The data showed an impact on unscheduled-care-services (unplanned hospital admissions, home visits by GPs, attendance at A&E, calls made to NHS Direct and use of ambulance services) when comparing pre- and post- commencement of the volunteer service.

On every measure of unscheduled-care-services the incidence of demand decreased as a result of volunteers reducing social isolation” (Paul Cronin – Chief Executive, Severn Hospice).

According to Paul the implications for the success of the program are:

  • Increasing social connectedness and reducing social isolation should be given some priority in a future health care model;
  • Community is acknowledged as a long-term partner by the local NHS;
  • A level of shared sovereignty in priority setting and planning;
  • Leadership and coordination vested in our communities for the provision of voluntary support to the most frail and vulnerable;
  • Local solutions to resourcing challenges to make development sustainable; and
  • Relationships between the NGO and NHS – small investment, big impact.

Pic – Paul Cronin at the PHPCI Conference in Bristol May 2015

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