Hospice Care Week: “We’re not about death – we’re about quality of life”

by Liz Cottier
Hospice Manager

Liz-CottierAs part of Hospice Care Week (7-13 October) Liz Cottier, Manager of the Marie Curie Hospice, West Midlands, explains how being open to the community can take away the fear associated with going into a hospice.

Before I started my job as hospice manager nine years ago, I worked for an airline. I’d only been into a hospice once before. When I was offered the job, I remember thinking: “Am I going to be bursting into tears every ten minutes?” But it’s not like that at all.

I manage the newly-built Marie Curie Hospice, West Midlands. Everyone who comes here says it’s not what they were expecting. It’s not all hushed voices and people walking around with sad faces. It is a friendly and welcoming place, with lots of light and space.

Open to the community

Our hospice is designed to be open to the community and we encourage as many people to come here as possible.

There’s a Macmillan team based here and a number of other groups use our facilities, including the Solihull Cancer Support Group, the Citizens Advice Bureau and the local district nurses attend training here. Our café is open to the public and a group of ladies regularly meets here on a Sunday.

I think this openness takes away the fear that once you cross our threshold you’ll never come out. In fact, while our patients all have life-threatening illnesses – such as cancer, heart failure and multiple sclerosis – a lot do go home. And we are here to help them, if that’s what they want.

Wide range of services

For example, we provide physiotherapy for people who have been bed-bound in hospital, to help them regain their strength and a degree of independence. Many people also come here for the day to use our services, which include complementary therapies such as massage, reflexology and aromatherapy.

We also have lots of volunteers coming in to run activities like baking and gardening. There is an integrated greenhouse in the building, so people can enjoy gardening when it’s too cold to be outside.

Another important part of our work is helping the patient’s family to cope. As well as bereavement counselling, we can help with practical matters such as financial worries. There is a room for families to stay in, which enables the patient and their loved ones to spend time together in private.

Research reveals patients’ views

When people experience hospice care for themselves, their views often change dramatically. Research by our Edinburgh hospice showed that most people who had spent time there as an in-patient wanted to die at the hospice, whereas those who had not said they would prefer to die at home.

This may be because hospice patients have more complex needs or less social support than those who have never been admitted, but it may also be because they’re more familiar with the hospice and its staff.

Ultimately, we’re not about death – we’re about quality of life. We’re not here to hasten, shorten or prolong life. We’re here to make sure the time people have left is the best it can possibly be.