As the first known partnership of its kind in Essex, in the past six months 15 patients with different liver diseases and at various stages of treatment have been referred to St Luke’s Hospice for assessment, ongoing care and support.
St Luke’s Hospice provides a wide range of services to patients who have end of life care needs including, support groups, holistic care, complimentary therapies, physiotherapy and counselling. Those services are also available for patients with long term health conditions, other than cancer, as well as their carers, family and friends.
Sarah Tarff, Liver Nurse Specialist, explained: “When you say St Luke’s Hospice people automatically think it’s about end of life care. But this project is about making sure patients with long term liver diseases get a well-rounded level of care, so they are able to get the support they need and optimise their quality of life.”
The liver is the body’s detox centre. Alcohol, Hepatitis C and poor lifestyle can lead to conditions such as cirrhosis. One of the symptoms of chronic liver disease is a build-up of fluid called ascites in the abdomen, which the body cannot get rid of and needs to be drained.
Normally that would require admission to hospital. Instead St Luke’s are able to schedule more regular appointments to drain the fluid, which means the patient benefits from a shorter stay in their day unit, which is a less clinical and more comfortable setting.
Sarah added: “Of course, some patients just prefer to be in hospital. But we are finding that patients who are referred to the hospice are reaping the benefits from the extra support St Luke’s can provide and becoming more medically stable as a result. And it should go without saying that if a patient needs medical attention, St Luke’s can refer them straight back to the liver clinic at Basildon Hospital.”
Virginia Campbell, Specialist Nurse Practitioner at St Luke’s Hospice, used to work at Basildon Hospital and used her contacts to set up groups for patients with non-malignant conditions. As well as liver disease, she is also in talks with other specialities at Basildon Hospital, including renal and cardiac units.
She said: “The main benefit for patients is they don’t reach crisis levels. We find they are turning to the hospice for support and treatment before they become overwhelmed or uncomfortable. We are helping them and their families make informed decisions about their care and their future, and we are helping them break down some emotional barriers.
“I’m so pleased the referral scheme is such a success, especially as Sarah and I are both passionate about providing our patients with the best possible care.”
Patients with liver cirrhosis can only be referred to St Luke’s Hospice via the liver clinic at Basildon Hospital.