Why hospice care must be accessible to all communities

by Shameem Nawaz Community Development Officer Hospice care must be accessible to all communities

Shameem Nawaz is a Community Development Officer at the Marie Curie Hospice, Cardiff and the Vale. It is her job to build links with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities and ensure the hospice can offer the support they need.

My role was created because very few people from ethnic minorities were using the hospice’s services. This was a concern because we’re based near to an area which is home to a number of different groups: Somali, Pakistani, Indian and Chinese – as well as sizeable Afro-Caribbean and Arabic communities. It’s my job to create links with these communities, reduce the barriers to them using our services and offer patient support. To build relationships, I do a lot of networking with community groups and leaders and talking to organisations such as the Stroke Association, the council, local health board and hospitals.

Understanding the barriers

I also hold discussion groups with people from the different communities, to understand why they haven’t been coming to the hospice. One of the main themes is a lack of knowledge. We’ve been trying to overcome this barrier. When people come to the hospice for the discussion groups, we invite them to look around, meet our staff and find out about what we offer. After this, they tend to be very positive about our services and the hospice environment. Some people are anxious about whether we can accommodate their religious, cultural and language needs. For example, they may want to know if we can provide Halal food. As we have our own chef, catering for different dietary needs isn’t a problem.

Open to all

We’ve also got a quiet room which people of different faiths can use for prayer. Our chaplain is taking a lead on making it appropriate for the main religious groups in the area – Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs. Community groups have offered to supply religious artefacts for the room. It will still be a neutral space, but people can bring out the things they need. Language is another issue. People for whom English is a second language might not know what terms like ‘hospice’ and ‘palliative care’ mean. They need to be carefully translated. There is a lack of understanding of the difference between the words ‘hospice’ and ‘hospital’. We explain that the hospice is a much smaller, more informal and relaxed place. There are also barriers within the healthcare system. Even though GPs are aware of hospices, they don’t always refer people from minority ethnic groups. When they do, it could be at the beginning of a diagnosis, when the person is not ready to take that information on. I’ve been talking to GPs and other healthcare professionals and explaining we are relevant for all communities.

People do need support

I think it’s a common misconception that people from other cultures care for sick and elderly relatives at home. Things have changed. People don’t always live in the same city – or even the same country – as their close relatives. There is a shift in how people live their lives. There is also financial pressure on both partners to work. All the economic issues that affect the white majority also affect minority ethnic groups making it less likely someone is able to stay home and care for sick family members. Regardless of ethnicity, people and their families do need support in coping with life-threatening and terminal illness. It’s up to us to make sure they know we are here for them.