Reflecting on our palliative care work: thoughts from Paul Baughan

Paul Baughan 2Dr Paul Baughan, our palliative care GP clinical lead, discusses the benefits of early palliative care, highlights a resource that we’ve developed to compare different palliative care identification tools, and looks ahead to future work on care planning and care coordination.

Having worked within General Practice for over 20 years, I have seen the transition from hospital-based care to community care for a wide variety of clinical conditions and diseases. We look after many more people who are living with complex medical diagnoses well into their 80s, 90s and beyond. It can be difficult to identify when a palliative approach to care should be considered, and as a result we sometimes find ourselves on the back-foot, reacting to events and changes in clinical condition. Often, with the benefit of hindsight, it might have been possible to anticipate and plan for these episodes before they happen.

This is one of the reasons that I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with Healthcare Improvement Scotland and five test sites across Scotland (Dundee, East Ayrshire, Fife, Glasgow, and Perth and Kinross) to explore how we might identify people who could benefit from a palliative approach to their care at a much earlier stage.

Although a variety of different electronic and paper ‘tools’ have been developed by academics to help identify those who might benefit from a palliative approach to their care, it can be confusing to know which tool to use, and in which situation. Some are electronic, some are designed for particular diseases such as cancer or dementia, or for particular settings such as care homes.  Some tools are intended for health professionals and some for the general population. I have therefore enjoyed working with the team in Healthcare Improvement Scotland to design a resource which will help health and social care professionals become more familiar with the different identification tools, and most importantly, decide which one suits them best. Our five test sites have chosen different identification tools to use within their local Health and Social Care Partnerships.

However, identifying those who might benefit from a palliative approach to their care is just the first step.  It is the conversations that follow, between the health and social care professionals and the person, that are important. And then of course the care planning that results from these discussions. This is our next area of focus at Healthcare Improvement Scotland. We are now working with our test sites to explore how best to plan, coordinate and deliver care to those who are living with a progressive life-limiting condition.

This is an exciting phase of our work, as each test site is considering innovative and practical ways to provide this care within existing resources, and across health and social care. We will have the opportunity to share some of the learning from across Scotland in the Autumn, with the full outcomes from our test site projects available in 2019.

Back at my own general practice, my colleagues and I will continue to see an increase in the number of people with complex progressive life-limiting conditions in the years ahead. Therefore, the outcomes from the five test sites will be very relevant to the work that we do on a daily basis. We know that a proactive, multi-professional, care planning approach is required, and eagerly await advice from the test sites regarding how best to achieve this.

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