A HOSPICE is using Hospice Care Week to challenge some myths surrounding its role.

St Helena Hospice provides end of life care to people across north Essex...but so much more.

Hospice medical director Dr Emma Tempest said many people are under the false impression that hospice buildings - such as St Helena’s 18-bed building in Highwoods, Colchester - are simply centres for dying.

St Helena Hospice Covid19 Measures, Essex

St Helena Hospice Covid19 Measures, Essex

“It’s true some people get to the end of their life and, for whatever reason, don’t want to die at home - they feel more comfortable dying somewhere where we can support them,” said Dr Tempest.

“But we also have a lot of patients who come in to manage their symptoms or other worries they’ve got about their illness, and we aim to get on top of their symptoms and then send them home.

Hospice matron Niamh Eve added “We don’t focus on death. We focus on people doing joyful things, from spending quality time with their families to having sessions here with their own pets - everything from parrots to guinea pigs.

“A lot of people who come to us at the hospice at Highwoods say they didn’t expect it to be like this - a really lovely, calming space, staffed with specialists who are trained in palliative care.”

Dr Tempest pointed out that for many people care in their own space remains their first choice, with over 90 per cent of patients choosing to be cared for in a home setting.

“It’s where they want to be for as much time as they possibly can. Our Hospice in the Home team of nurse specialists, physios, occupational therapists, family support and counsellors visits people across north east Essex, supporting them and their families at home, and helping people to make their own choices and live with dignity.”

Another misconception is that hospice care is primarily for older people suffering from cancer.

At St Helena Hospice, it’s available for everyone from the age of 16 and more than 42 per cent of the patients the hospice cared for last year were living with life-limiting non-cancer diagnoses.

Accessibility, said Emma Jackson, Hospice in the Home clinical nurse specialist, is key.

St Helena Hospice, Essex

St Helena Hospice, Essex

“Whatever the age of our patients and whatever they’re going through, we want to support them.

“Our Safe Harbour project, for instance, enables us to reach out to people who traditionally have had difficulty accessing hospice services, such as people who are homeless or minority group communities.”

It’s certainly not all about conventional medicine at the hospice, either.

Its approach champions holistic treatment – that is, individualised treatment of the whole person, with non-invasive complementary approaches such as massage and aromatherapy and spiritual support for people of all faiths also available.

Another lesser known aspect of hospice care is the bereavement support it offers to the wider community - not just to relatives of hospice patients.

Kaye Riley, bereavement counsellor, said: “We take bereavement referrals for anybody, with both a service for children and a service for adults.

St Helena Hospice | October 2021

St Helena Hospice | October 2021

“We give bereavement support to people for a whole range of reasons, including Covid deaths, accidents, suicide and miscarriage.

“The first time meeting a counsellor, people probably are quite nervous, they’re not sure what it’s all about, how the process works.

“So sometimes it’s about reassuring people that what they’re feeling is quite normal, and we have a little bit of a chat about the grief process because people just don’t know what to expect.

“Mainly what you’re trying to do and over a long period of time is to come to some sort of acceptance and adjustment to the new life that you’re having.

“I don’t think the grief ever really goes away, but you’re building a new life around it.

“This may take years - it’s a huge process for someone to go through.

“Seeing a shift in the person, though - that they are going to be all right and they know they’re going to be all right, even though the road ahead still might be quite rocky - is what it’s all about.”

Such in depth specialist care - medical, complementary and pastoral - costs the hospice £30,000 a day.

While 40 per cent of its funding needs are met by the NHS, it relies on the generosity of the community to raise the remaining 60 per cent.

Commercial director Gemma Zweck said: “We are so thankful to our community for their support and every donation makes sure more people have dignity and choice at the end of life.

“A small gift can make a big difference for people facing dying, death and bereavement.”

For information about any St Helena Hospice services and to support its work, see www.sthelena.org.uk.