'The care here is second to none'
Palliative Care Week in Kerry: Reporter Tadhg Evans talks to those who know the difference palliative care can make
Palliative Care Week began on Sunday with the aim of making people aware of the difference palliative care makes: the difference it makes to patients; the difference it makes to their carers; and the difference it makes to their families.
Few things deliver these points more powerfully than the words of those whose loved ones have benefitted from this care. More powerful still, perhaps, are the words of those who have a loved one currently receiving palliative care.
Castleisland man Dermot Daly was diagnosed with cancer in his neck a year and a half ago. His illness has since spread throughout his body, and it's seven weeks since he was admitted to the Kerry Specialist Palliative Care Inpatient Unit at University Hospital Kerry (UHK). The 15-bed unit opened two years ago after extraordinary fundraising by the Kerry Hospice Foundation. It cost over €6million to build - but for the families of those who've received care there, the unit is priceless.
"Dad was here for three weeks first, and then we were able to bring him home for a few weeks," says Dermot's daughter, Eleanor. "He returned to the unit last week. He's in his final days, but the care here is second to none, and it's not just him who's been cared for; we've been cared for ourselves, really. It's like home away from home. All the staff, despite what they're facing, stay jolly and smiling, and they lift our spirits when we're feeling low.
"Dad's friends and family have been able to come in to be with him, and there's never any hassle. I don't know how to get across how grateful we are to all the staff for helping us in this time of need."
The Kerry Specialist Palliative Care Services Director of Nursing Mari O'Carroll explains that Kerry's service is driven by a consultant-led, multidisciplinary team of nursing staff; healthcare assistants; physios; occupational therapists; speech-and-language therapists; dieticians; pastoral carers; catering staff; porters; and clerical and domestic staff.
Away from the inpatient unit is the Specialist Palliative Day Unit, operational since 2007 and open four days each week, again thanks to KHF fund-raising. Its day-care service makes up two of those days, with patients availing of physiotherapy; rehabilitation sessions; occupational therapies; and some complementary offerings such as reflexology and aromatherapy massages. For the other two days, the day unit offers an outpatients and day hospital, through which those referred are assessed by a team and receive a care plan tailored to their needs. Some medical interventions are also provided.
The University Hospital Kerry Specialist Palliative Care Team sees patients admitted to UHK, as well as patients attending A&E, MAU, Dialysis and the Oncology day ward on a consult basis. It also provides an outpatient service four days a week in the Palliative Care Outpatient Suite. Emergency patients are facilitated for medical review, if possible, four days a week.
"We also have two Community Specialist Palliative Care Teams that each provide a seven-day service," Ms Carroll explains. "The team for North Kerry is based in the Specialist Palliative Care Unit in Tralee, and the South Kerry team is based in Killarney Community Hospital. They work in partnership with the primary-care team, led by the GP, caring for the patients either in their own homes, community hospitals, or nursing homes. They receive medical advice from the consultants in palliative medicine.
"The theme for Palliative Care Week 2019 is 'surrounding you with support'. We are promoting the services via media such as newspapers, radio, and social-media platforms. Our team members will also be present in University Hospital Kerry canteen some days this week promoting Palliative Care Week, and e-mails will be circulated to HSE staff.
"We want people to have a better understanding of Palliative Care."
Palliative care ensures the best quality of life possible for people with serious and/or progressive illnesses, and this care can be provided in homes, nursing homes, hospices, or hospitals. It does not just provide pain and symptom management; it also offers social, emotional, and indeed spiritual support.
Some patients benefit for many years; it's neither confined to those approaching the end of their life nor those with advanced cancer. People living with other advanced illnesses - such as heart disease, kidney failure, motor-neurone disease, and/or dementia, for example - have benefitted or will benefit from palliative care.
Indeed, as Dermot Daly's family will tell you, even those by the sides of such patients can and do benefit.
"It's very comfortable and it doesn't feel clinical, doesn't feel like a hospital," Eleanor says. "The décor is bright and cheerful. There's a lovely canteen. There's a games room for kids. And all the staff, not just the doctors and nurses, look after you right down to very simple, little things."
"There's myself; our daughter, Eleanor; our sons, Patrick and Thomas; and nine grandchildren of ours, and we've all been able to come and go as we please - there's been no restriction," Dermot's wife, Joan, says.
"What we want is for people to support this cause, even if it's a Euro or two for the charity box.
"You never know when this will come to your doorstep, but the care, facilities, and compassion here are second to none.