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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Comparing tools that can help to identify people who could benefit from a palliative care approach

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We have recently published a resource that compares different tools that could be used to identify people who could benefit from a palliative care approach. This blog post gives an overview of the document and its features.

The benefits of early identification

Early identification of people who could benefit from a palliative approach to their care has many advantages. It can allow people to make informed choices about what medical treatments and care they would like to receive, or not receive, and to prioritise things that are important to them when length of life may be short, or when the presence of irreversible illness has altered life for that person.

Palliative care identification tools

It can be very difficult to recognise when someone is nearing the end of their life due to a chronic, progressive medical condition, frailty or old age. A number of tools are available to help identify individuals who could benefit from a palliative care approach at an earlier stage.

Comparing different tools – at a glance

We have designed a visual resource comprising a table and a decision tree (see below) to make it easier for Health and Social Care Partnerships to compare the key features of different identification tools, and to select the tools that are most appropriate for their contexts.

PC tools table

Palliative care tools decision tree v0.7

 

This resource is not intended to be a comprehensive literature review, but rather a visual comparison of some of the main identification tools that are currently used in Scotland. There are brief outlines of all of the tools featured in the comparison table and decision tree, together with links to some key research and further information on these tools.

We have focused on tools that were identified in a literature review by Maas et al, and discussions with palliative care clinicians in Scotland. Some have been validated and others have not. We have tried as far as possible to include information on the limitations of different tools.

You can access the palliative care identification tools comparator on the ihub website by clicking on the document image below:

 

PC tools comparator cover

Introducing Maxine Jones

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I’ve had a long career in generalist primary care practice management, so stepping into a new role as Fife’s palliative care improvement advisor may have seemed at first like a leap into unfamiliar, specialist territory.

But, as one doctor said to me, palliative care is the bread and butter of primary care.

Both services share a deep-rooted holistic philosophy that deals with the emotional, social, practical and spiritual aspects of health and well-being, as well as the medical management of illness.

So, for me, a move to palliative care felt like a home coming.

Improvement work

I’m working with Fife’s health and social care partnership to realise the Scottish Government’s vision, that by 2021 everyone who needs palliative care will have access to it.

Our aim is to innovate and improve the identification and care coordination for people who may benefit from palliative care.

What people want is support to live well, safely and for longer in their usual place of residence.  What people want is to have quick and easy access to responsive services and trusted care providers when they need them. These principals are universal to both primary and palliative care.

Some of our improvement work will focus on developing palliative care in the community, with providers that people know well. This will extend identification beyond those with cancer. Anyone living with long term conditions and growing frailty would benefit from early palliative care.

But identification is only part of the story.

As important is the coordination of responsive, person-centered services. Services that are delivered through closer, enhanced multi-disciplinary team working. Services that are nearer to people. Services that are geared towards improving continuity between people and their care providers.

You’ll hear more about my work in the coming months. I’d be delighted to learn from your community palliative care initiatives, and to hear your suggestions for improving identification and coordination of palliative care.

Please do get in touch.