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Support to actively care

Empowering families to play an active role in caring for their loved ones is behind a new project at Poole Hospital.

Touching Lives aims to give ‘permission’ to visitors to continue to do the things they would usually do for a loved one at their home.

The initiative provides simple information on how to support a loved one, to build confidence and allay any concerns over safety. Areas covered include a range of simple things, from helping with drinking, to providing a therapeutic touch by holding or stroking hands.

Relative Tracy Hixson, 49, has been a driving force behind Touching Lives. Tracy - along with brothers Neil and Steven - frequently visited her mother, Jane Ashton, at Forest Holme Hospice, part of Poole Hospital, at the end of her life. Jane, a former nurse, was diagnosed with breast cancer and died in November 2015 aged 65.

While keen to support her mother, Tracy found the unfamiliar surroundings led to a loss of confidence in knowing how she could best care for her mother.

Tracy explains: “My mother’s care was exemplary – I was astounded by what happens at Forest Holme. What the team does there is incredible, and they deal with real adversity every day with great compassion.

“Yet I felt disempowered by the environment, paralysed by my lack of confidence and not knowing how I could help to try to care for someone who had spent their whole lives caring for others.

“I thought if others had those thoughts too, they might benefit from something that helps them to feel more empowered.”

Pictured right Tracy and her mother.

Determined to help others who may feel the same, Tracy joined the hospital’s Living Well Partnership – a group comprising relatives and carers, as well as staff. The group meets regularly and have been instrumental in several projects to improve the experience of end of life care at the hospital.

Tracy highlighted to the group three ways in which she could have supported her mother, but wasn’t confident enough to do so. Mouth care, for example ensuring her mother had help to drink or had a moist mouth; hearing, by including her mother in conversations even though she could not communicate verbally; and touch, in addition to holding her hand, applying hand lotion or other therapeutic gestures.

“There were things like playing music or rubbing cream into her hands that I could have done if I was more confident,” continued Tracy. “It may sound superficial but when someone is in that position it can make such a significant difference to them.”

Tracy’s experiences, and those of other members of the Living Well Partnership, have now been used to influence the Touching Lives project, led by transformation manager Clive Hunt. It is currently being trialed on the hospital’s stroke unit, with the aim of introducing it hospital-wide later in the year.

Dr Amy Pharaoh (pictured left with Tracy) is a consultant in palliative medicine at Forest Holme Hospice and a member of the Living Well Partnership. She says the project’s principles apply on all hospital wards and to patients with many conditions, not just those at the end of their life.

“The main aim of Touching Lives is to give relatives, friends and carers permission, to let them know it’s safe and to provide a little bit of guidance,” said Amy.

“It’s really important for many patients that they have a familiar person nearby, their voice or touch - things that staff simply can’t replicate. This can lead to patients feeling more peaceful and perhaps even needing less medication.

“What makes Touching Lives so exciting is that the principles apply to all kinds of patients, from those at the end of their life, to those living with conditions like stroke or dementia.

“Tracy was instrumental in the Touching Lives project and we’re indebted to her for her contribution.”

Tracy added: “It’s important for people to feel they can give a helping hand, if they want to – my message is that people shouldn’t feel overwhelmed.

“Forest Holme is awe-inspiring - to make a small contribution as a lay person is very rewarding.”

Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Longfleet Road, Poole, Dorset BH15 2JB. Tel: 01202 665511

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