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Health / Proposed ‘hospice at home’ for Hillswick patients

Dr Susan Bowie and Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Steward in the garden of the Hillswick surgery last year.

A Northmavine doctor is setting up a palliative care service intended to share the burden of those looking after terminally ill relatives at home.

According to Dr Susan Bowie, who runs GP practice at Hillswick, the service will hopefully be up and running until more permanent measures are funded by the Scottish Government.

There are also indications Shetland Health Board will be able to help covering nights and weekends “in the locality” though it is not clear how much of Shetland this means.

Bowie said that volunteers, paid for from the practice budget, would both help family members stay with and care for the dying person, and give the family much-needed rest and support.

The alternative could mean people being transferred to a care centre or the hospital instead of being able to spend their final days at home with family, pets and familiar comforts.

Bowie said she was encouraged that the issue had been debated in the Scottish Parliament at the end of last month, and felt that David Stewart, who had raised the motion, and his Labour MSP colleague Rhoda Grant, would pursue the issue till its end.

The Scottish Government stated that the Shetland Integration Joint Board, which combines health and social care, had prepared a report which could become the blueprint of a Scotland-wide policy on palliative and end of life care.

“This is not just an issue for Shetland, but for the whole country. I am really pleased it is being discussed in the Scottish Parliament,” said Bowie, who has been campaigning on the issue since 2012.

“In my own practice we will be setting up a plan as a fall-back option, a plan B,” she added.

Such home care had been provided by the “hospital at home” service in Shetland, but the responsibilities of this had passed to social care, who were not obliged to provide such help for people, said Bowie.

She is looking to recruit ex-nurses and carers to act as palliative care volunteers and give relatives a break from their care duties.

It would help the dying to end their days at home, where they wanted to be, rather than be admitted to hospital.

Bowie said that the programme would only run until more permanent arrangements were put in place. It will also be limited to the geographic coverage of the Hillswick Health Centre.

In a statement executive manager of community care resources Jaine Best said that discussions would take place shortly on what further support is needed in Hillswick to support palliative care.

She added that “care of the dying is an integral part of the work we do in the Community Health and Social Care Partnership.

“This stage in life is a time when a person, and those close to them, be they family or carers, are vulnerable. For this reason we have a framework in place to guide how we respond to and handle each situation.

“We have just published a new palliative care strategy, which builds on the excellent work that doctors, nurses, and social care workers carry out across Shetland in partnership with families, friends and communities.

“The aims of the strategy are to continue providing choice, and supporting people to remain in the community where that is wanted. Shetland continues to have a very high percentage of time that people spend their last six months of life in a community setting, with this being highest in Shetland compared to the rest of Scotland.

Anyone interested in the Northmavine hospice at home project should contact Dr Susan Bowie at the Hillswick Health Centre.