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Kent trust working with hospice to introduce new symbol to indicate end-of-life care

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A hospital trust in Kent has worked with a local hospice to improve end of life care by introducing a new symbol to alert staff when a patient is expected to die soon or has just died.

The “compassion symbol” is displayed on wards when a person is expected to die within the next few hours, days – or when a person has just died. It is also used on bags that contain a deceased person’s clothing, when the clothing is collected by relatives.

“Staff at the trust have really embraced the project, using their own ideas and creativity”

Annie Hogben

The symbol’s display is to encourage an atmosphere of quiet and respect at this significant time, said East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust.

The symbol is part of a wider project launched by East Kent Hospitals to improve end-of-life care across the trust’s sites, via a new partnership formed with Pilgrims Hospices.

Known as the Compassion Project, the initiative promotes dignity, respect and compassion at the end of life – represented by a compassion symbol in the form of the Pilgrims Hospices’ logo.

The project was funded thanks to a legacy donation from the family of past Kent and Canterbury Hospital senior matron and Pilgrims trustee Pat Morley.

Ms Morley worked to promote excellent nursing and also volunteered for many years as a trustee of Pilgrims Hospices, where her experience was invaluable, noted the trust.

“We have a duty to ensure that our patients are cared for with dignity, respect and compassion until they die”

Sue Cook

Following its launch in June 2017 the Compassion Project has been rolled out on nine wards across the trust. Since then it has gradually been cascaded to over 880 staff in more than 50 clinical wards and departments where patients who are dying, and their families, are being cared for.

All staff who come into contact with patients and families at such times are being trained to use the symbol and being encouraged to ensure it becomes part of the “normal ward routine and culture”.

In addition, posters have been displayed throughout the hospital wards and departments to let the public know more about the project and the use of the symbol.

Sue Cook, consultant nurse for palliative care and East Kent Hospitals’ end-of-life clinical lead, said: “Those of us who work in the NHS have a duty to ensure that our patients are cared for with dignity, respect and compassion until they die.

“That’s why the Compassion Project – and its symbol – is so important to us and all who help those approaching the end of their lives,” she noted.

Wendy Hills, Pilgrims Hospices director of nursing and care, said: “We are delighted with the success of the Compassion Project throughout East Kent’s hospital wards, so we can support as many people as possible to live well until the very last moment of their life.”

East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust/Pilgrims Hospices

Hospital trust introduces new symbol to indicate end-of-life care

Annie Hogben

Education project lead for Pilgrims Hospices, Annie Hogben, added: “How a loved one dies can have a profound and long-lasting impact on those who are left behind. Therefore, it’s essential that staff and visitors are sensitive to the needs of the person who is dying, and their loved ones at all times.

“The Compassion Project and its symbol represent a patient-focused and relative-focused approach to end-of-life care,” she said. “This acknowledges clinical reality, but also ensures that we never neglect dignity, compassion and emotional needs.

Ms Hogben highlighted that staff at the trust had “really embraced the project”, using their own ideas to help make it a success, and ultimately making a “huge difference” for patients and families.

The trust noted that improving end of life care was one of its key priorities for improving the quality of care in its hospitals, in the wake of previous concerns identified by regulators.

However, it highlighted that, in its 2017 report on the trust, the Care Quality Commission had found a “significant improvement” in the end-of-life of pathways across East Kent Hospitals.

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