Palliative care: A compassionate approach to end-of-life care

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15 years ago, Glenys Thomas lost her father.

The 74-year-old suffered a major stroke and spent 10 days in a coma before passing away.

Ms Thomas was by his side, her experience as a palliative care nurse adding to her personal ordeal.

“My father passed away many years ago in a general hospital,” she said.

“The type of care that he was provided with was not concurrent with my beliefs.”

Ms Thomas began working in palliative care a decade before her father’s passing. Before that, she worked in other areas of the health sector.

Although it wasn’t a personal experience that drew her to the profession, Ms Thomas says her father’s death is part of what drives her to continue providing end-of-life care.

“After seeing how my father was cared for, I don’t want to see that type of care again,” she said.

“[Palliative care] is more holistic than other areas. Patients aren’t just the prostate cancer in bed six, but Fred Jones who was married to Betty and really quite frightened by the new pain that had developed and what it might mean.”

Ms Thomas has now been working in palliative care for 25 years. She has spent the last decade overseeing Bethesda Hospital’s palliative care service.

The service was established in 2006 as a replacement for the Cottage Hospice in Shenton Park, where Ms Thomas worked prior to accepting the clinical nurse manager role at Bethesda.

The hospital initially set up a 10-bed unit, but it has now grown to 23 beds and is firmly embedded in the community. Bethesda also operates an outreach service for aged care facilities around Perth.

“People know that we are here and we often hear that our patients have requested to come to Bethesda,” she said.

“Another positive result from this is the number of people who live in the local community who come and volunteer at Bethesda.”

Glenys Thomas (left) with fellow palliative care practitioners.

Glenys Thomas (left) with fellow palliative care practitioners.

Palliative care-related hospitalisations increased by 11 per cent between 2009-10 and 2013-14, new data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows.

The figures show 44 per cent of patients who died after being admitted to hospital received palliative care.

Ms Thomas said patients who do receive palliative care receive more than what is offered by traditional care teams.

“Palliative care focuses on finding out what is important for the patient and helping them to be as well as they can be within the constraints of their illness,” Ms Thomas said.

“There is a growing need for us to respond to patients’ unique circumstances and individual needs, and work towards a model of care which addresses every dimension of the person.

“For those who eventually die, a good death is often something very positive for that family.”

Bethesda’s palliative care service has provided care for over 4,000 patients and their families since it opened in 2006.

Ms Thomas said her incredible team at the hospital as her reason for returning to work every day.

“What keeps me going back day after day is working with the amazing team that we have here at Bethesda,” she said.

“It’s a very patient-focused and family-focused group. Bag lady or knighted lady, you are treated with equal dignity and respect.

“Palliative care offers many things, including pain and symptom management, to give people as much quality time as possible as they live with their life limiting illness. It goes beyond the traditional care team.”

To find out more about palliative care, click here.

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