20th December 2016 Written by Skills for Health

Image: Greater support needed for all who care for dying patients – not just doctors.The BMA has called for greater support for doctors caring for patients at the end of their lives, after its latest quarterly survey found fewer than one in five felt they had received adequate support. However, it is not only doctors who care for patients who are dying. Ian Wheeler, Head of Research and Evaluation at Skills for Health, emphasises the importance of recognising the needs of the support workforce alongside physicians.

Unsurprisingly, more than 90 percent of doctors said that caring for patients at the end of their lives had an impact on them emotionally, yet only 14.7 percent had accessed the support available to them. Respondents added that they felt they should “just get on with it”, and that it was assumed that as medics they “should be able to cope”.

Where used, the emotional support offered to doctors by specialist palliative care units or teams does appear to be effective, with 92 percent of respondents stating that it met their needs. In light of this, the BMA has also called for it to become normal practice for doctors to access help earlier, before their own health is adversely affected.

It’s not just doctors

We at Skills for Health fully support this; however, it is also vital to recognise that it is not only doctors who are affected when a patient dies. We need to make sure the needs of the healthcare support workforce are also acknowledged and catered for.

From therapists to assistant practitioners and care assistants, research has highlighted the growing role support workers play in patient care, which sees them spend a great deal more time with patients than their nursing colleagues.  They often look after patients on a deeply personal level, spending time one-on-one every day or week. As a result, they are likely to build a close relationship with their patients, making their loss feel potentially even greater.

Close relationships

We must also consider allied health professionals and health workers in the community who work, often independently, in people’s homes as well as within hospitals. They again spend time treating individual patients over an extended period, and as such could feel their loss keenly. With the emphasis on integration and community-based care increasing, as well as the growing challenge of the UK’s ageing population, this is an issue that is likely to get worse.

There are nearly 800,000 staff working in the UK’s healthcare support workforce, and this year we were proud to launch the first Our Health Heroes Awards to recognise and celebrate the exceptional contribution they make to patients’ experience. Jamie Alsop, a support worker at Whitchurch Hospital in Cardiff, won Clinical Support Worker of the Year for Wales, and was specifically nominated for the compassionate way he cared for a patient until the end of their life, going above and beyond to ensure they and their family were as comfortable as they could be.

All staff feel the impact

Losing a patient is always a distressing and upsetting experience, and it is only natural that all staff members involved in their care will feel an impact when they pass away. While the BMA’s recommendations are valuable, we want to ensure that help is extended to everyone involved in treating patients at the end of their lives, and support workers also receive the support that they need.

For more information on how Skills for Health can support your workforce development, visit www.skillsforhealth.org.uk.

Find out more about the Our Health Heroes Awards here.

The healthcare support workforce, who are they? Watch the #OurHealthHeroes campaign video and find out more: