Hospices - not what you think...

Hospice myths

What's the first thing you think of when you hear the word "hospice"?

For many, it's death, dying and sadness. And whilst there is obviously an element of these, there's much more to hospices and the care they provide. We conducted research to find out more about the myths - or negative stereotypes - people had about hospices. We are looking to dispel these myths, and this is what we found.

1. Hospices are much more than places where people go to die

We offer a wide range of services so that people can have choice and control over where and how they receive their care. Services include in-patient facilities, day services, therapeutic recreational activities, respite care, outpatient clinics that help relieve painful symptoms and care in people’s homes.

We take the time to get to know the person and understand what their individual care needs and aspirations are; time that sometimes isn’t always available in a hospital.  The care we provide is flexible, giving people the freedom to live the life they choose, whether that is for a number of years or days.

Our day services and therapeutic recreational activities provide an opportunity for people living with a terminal illness to talk openly and honestly about their hopes and fears for the future, and to share their thoughts and feelings with both other people living with a terminal illness and our highly trained and supportive staff.  

Our outpatient clinics enable people to manage painful and uncomfortable symptoms resulting from their condition, and reduce the need to go to hospital for medical treatment.  For example our hospice in Bedford runs a lymphoedema clinic which helps to reduce painful swelling and inflammation of limbs (arms and legs) which can occur as a side effect of the surgery and chemotherapy to treat cancer.

Our hospices also provide community-based end of life care services, such as hospice at home and community nurse specialists, which support people to be cared for in their own home, pain free and in familiar and comforting surroundings.            

2. Not everyone who is referred to a hospice dies in a hospice

Around 60% of people who are referred to Sue Ryder hospices go home after receiving care to manage pain and other symptoms resulting from their illness.  The average length of stay in a hospice is eight days.

It is often the case that once a person has had care and support looking at all of their physical and emotional needs, their condition may improve so that they are able to go home.  For example, pain management is one of the reasons people are referred to a hospice, which can stem from physical symptoms as well as psychological.  By seeing beyond the condition and really listening to an individual’s needs we can support alleviate fears or anxieties which can sometimes manifest into physical effects such as depression.      

A patient can be referred and choose to come and stay at a hospice multiple times as their condition fluctuates over a period of time. 

We know that most people would prefer to live in their own homes for as long as possible; independently and with family and friends close by. That’s why our hospices are providing more end of life care for people in their own homes. 

3. Hospices are not just tea and sympathy

Hospice nurses and doctors are extraordinarily well-equipped to support people, and their families, at this most emotionally challenging time.  The care provided is not just about managing physical symptoms. It’s also about providing emotional, psychological and spiritual support. The effects of life-changing illnesses can be hugely difficult and distressing for both the person and their family. 

Our hospices are beacons of excellence in providing holistic and personalised end of life care.  Quality end of life care is about putting the person and their families first. Listening and spending time with an individual to find out how they want to live their last few years, months or moments of life. We treat every individual as a living person rather than a dying patient.

We provide much needed emotional and practical support for the whole family through counselling, carer support groups, bereavement support and specialist support for children. This support can help people cope with loss, and deal with frightening emotions including depression, anger and guilt. And, it can enable carers to have some vital time for themselves and a support network to lean on when needed.

4. Hospices are not dark and depressing places

Hospice teams work together to create a friendly, welcoming and warm environment in which people, and their families, are supported and able to relax in.  There is often laughter as well as tears. It can be a really special time when family members are able to stop being their loved one’s carer - and become their husband, wife, mother or son again.  

Vicki and her mother initially dreaded the thought of being admitted into a hospice, but were quickly reassured that hospices are not dark and depressing places. Read Vicki Neve’s firsthand account of the care her mother received at a Sue Ryder hospice in her last days of life. 

5. You never have to be, or feel, alone in a hospice

There are no visitor restrictions; family and friends and beloved pets can visit at any time of the day or night, and stay for as long as they want.  Nurses are on-hand 24-7 to talk to or provide a listening ear.

Richard slept on a camp bed in his wife’s room at a Sue Ryder hospice so he could be close to her at all times in her last few days of life. Read Richard’s firsthand account of the 24-7 care his wife, and the whole family, received from the team at Sue Ryder – St John’s hospice in Bedford.  

6. Hospices are not only available to a select few

Hospice care is not just for people with cancer; all those diagnosed with a terminal and life-limiting condition could benefit from hospice care.  Our hospices cater for all religious, non-religious and spiritual beliefs.  We also actively engage with black and minority ethnicity communities to break down cultural and societal barriers to accessing hospice care.

Whatever the illness, be it cancer, brain injury or Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease, our aim remains the same. Not just to provide specialist medical care to ease pain and discomfort, but also to offer people and their family’s real emotional support that can help with the difficult and often distressing effects of these illnesses.

Our specialist doctors, nurses and carers are extraordinarily well equipped to care for people living with life-changing illnesses; ensuring they feel totally supported at a time when they are often at their most vulnerable. 

To encourage more people from black and minority ethnicity communities to access our hospice care we work with those communities to address cultural barriers. Read about our work doing this in West Yorkshire.

Our hospices also cater for all religious, non-religious and spiritual beliefs.  Read an interview with one of our hospice chaplain’s, Chere Hunter, talking about Sue Ryder’s approach to personalised care.


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