By RYAN TAYLOR
Work has begun to provide Shetland with its own hospice, saving terminally ill patients the pain of being separated from many of their loved ones when travelling south for palliative care.
The idea has come from Lerwick woman Janet Manson, who realised having no hospice put the isles at a severe disadvantage compared with communities in Aberdeen, the Highlands or the Western Isles.
After enlisting the help of retired Scalloway doctor Bruce Cleminson – who has experience in palliative care – she organised a public meeting to gauge public reaction.
The response from the meeting on Tuesday night at Market House was “amazing” with over 40 folk turning up to hear Dr Cleminson talk on palliative care.
Plans are now underway to set up a committee before the group becomes established as a registered charity to raise vital funds for a site selection and building programme.
Before the idea came to her “in the middle of the night for no apparent reason,” Mrs Manson had no vested interest in hospices at all.
She does not work for the health service and has no dying friends or relatives who would stand to benefit from having a hospice on the isles.
However she is determined to see her plans eventually come to fruition, even if it could prove difficult in the current financial climate.
“When you think about it somebody having a terminal illness in Shetland has to go to Aberdeen for palliative care,” she said.
“If anything happens to them their friends and family often can’t get to them to see them or be with them for their final moments.
“The nearest children’s hospice is in Aberdeen. A child’s parents might go down, but often the extended family can’t spend a child’s beloved last moments with them.
“I’ve heard from so many people with dilemmas that would ring your heart. It’s unbelievable that in the 21st century we are in this situation. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been done before.”
Mrs Manson hopes funding for the project might be available from the NHS and the lottery fund, although she is concerned people who have already given generously to well known charitable causes such as the CLAN appeal might feel the need to tighten their belts during any future fund-raising campaign.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a huge up hill struggle to get the actual thing started. It will be running costs that will be the problem.
“People have been generous to the CLAN appeal and in the past the Cat Scan, there is a chance people may be getting giving fatigue.
“Whatever capital we raise we won’t get much interest anyway. I’ve all sorts of wonderful dreams but how much of it we can actually afford we’ll just have to wait and see.”
She said palliative care was not just about cancer, and highlighted recent reports that one out of every 250 of us have – or will get – MS.
“A hospice isn’t just about cancer. It’s for any terminal illness.”
The next step is for Mrs Manson to visit as many hospices as she can on the mainland to help keep abreast of palliative care needs.
Any information she can gain will be fed into a review of NHS Shetland’s palliative care strategy following a meeting with the health board in April.
In the meantime she is picturing a place with a calm and pleasant atmosphere, far removed from institutionalised hospital wards.
“A hospice is not about dying solely. It’s about living the best way we can before we die. Not everybody in a hospice is failing in bed. Most people have still got a lot of living to do.
“A hospice could offer day care services where patients could drop in. There could be a multi-purpose room or a day room as well.
“In Aberdeen there are things like hypnotherapy. People can come in for the day, get their palliative care sorted out and they carry on living, and I’d like to see something like that up here.”
She said it was also important that children and young people were catered for, and that any new development avoids becoming a place merely for old people.
“We need a place of respite where the child can come while the rest of the family go on holiday or do what they need to do.”
Dr Cleminson said hospices had increased greatly in numbers throughout the world since the first one was opened in the UK in 1967 – St Christopher’s Hospice in London.
“It was so successful the hospice movement quickly spread all over Europe, and there is now no continent where there aren’t hospices.”
He said it was important for doctors and medical staff to remember they could still help patients even if their condition was terminal.
“When illnesses are incurable we need to remember while curative treatment has failed there is a whole range of symptomatic treatments that are available.”
He said NHS Shetland’s strategy could be “complemented” by Mrs Manson’s input when she meets health board staff next month.
“Hopefully a new shape of palliative care will emerge after that.”