Wendy Loader and Anna Primrose-Wells are Occupational Therapists at our Leckhampton Court Hospice. Together they work across the Inpatient Unit – the only one in Gloucestershire providing specialist inpatient hospice care – and Day Hospice. Hospice Director Elise Hoadley meets them to find out how they help people maintain independence at the end of their lives.
Wendy and Anna agree that their overarching aim as Occupational Therapists is to make sure people are supported to spend the time they have left in the way they choose.
"We look at how someone’s illness affects their everyday activities," explains Wendy. "This could be how they get around their house, cook meals or look after their pets.
"If they need any additional help to maintain their independence to do these things, we look at how we can make this happen," she continues. "This could be through providing a specific piece of equipment or learning a new way of doing the task."
Quality of life
Many people see the role of an Occupational Therapist as being focused on discharging patients home, but Wendy and Anna’s roles here at Leckhampton are very different; it’s more about helping people live the fullest lives possible.
"We focus on the quality of life of our patients," stresses Wendy. "Even if someone is living with a condition that can’t be cured, there is much we can do to support them to remain independent and continue to play an active role in their own care.
"My role supports people to carry on doing what they want to be able to do. I help them maintain a sense of wellbeing and identity. It’s all about helping people get some control back over the things they can do."
Telling people they work in a hospice often results in mixed reactions.
"Some people put the shutters down when I tell them I work in a hospice," Anna tells me, "while others say it is a lovely thing to do, but they would not be able to do it themselves.
"I always tell them that it is a real privilege to be part of someone’s life," continues Anna. "People can live for a long time with a life-changing diagnosis and there are lots of things they might like to do or achieve – things that are special to them or that will create memories with their families. I can help them explore how it may be possible to achieve some of these things. It is such a rewarding role."
A small amount of help = huge benefits
Both Wendy and Anna say making just a few small changes can make a big difference to the people and families they are helping to care for.
"We were caring for a father with a young son who had been in our Inpatient Unit for some time," recalls Wendy. "By making some minor adaptations at his home, and providing support and encouragement, he was able to attend his son’s birthday party back home. We only made small changes, but we helped make a big difference to him that will leave lasting memories for his family.
"On another occasion, we were caring for a lady who had a child at school," Wendy continues. "All she wanted was to be able to carry on being a mother for as long as possible so, working with her family, we made this happen.
"Initially we made sure she could carry on taking her child to school and cook the family evening meal, but when this became too tiring, we focused on teaching her partner to cook the meals and she pulled together her recipes so that her partner could carry on cooking when she was no longer there.
"When she was later admitted to the hospice, her child came here from school each day so they could talk and she could help with her child’s homework. When this in turn became too much, we made sure there was space so her child could carry on doing her homework in the same room so mum could listen.
"It was so important that she was able to carry on with her role of being a mother," Wendy concludes, "and a huge privilege that we could help make this happen."
"A very special place"
Anna agrees. "In our roles we are encouraged to do that little bit extra to help patients fulfil their last wishes, to carry on living and create lasting memories," she says. "It is so important and it is what hospice care is all about."
"Leckhampton Court is a very special place," Anna ads. "The people, passion, commitment and skills we all bring together in such a beautiful environment has such as positive impact. We’re all working together towards the same goal of providing the best care we can for patients."