Foyle Hospice Leads Northern Ireland’s First Compassionate Communities Project

A group of volunteers from Derry/Londonderry have become the first in Northern Ireland to be trained as part of a Compassionate Communities pilot project aiming to reach out to people who have become isolated as a result of living with advanced illness.
They will help people to remain living independently at home and stay connected with and involved in their community.
The pilot is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland and is funded by the Western Local Commissioning Group.
Linda Morris, the Project Manager, knows from her own family how important companionship can be for someone who is frail and living with chronic illness. She says:
“My Mum is 84 and lives in Liverpool. She is frail and has life limiting illnesses which mean she finds it difficult to leave the house.
Although family live nearby the person who makes the real difference to her and means that she can continue to live at home is her neighbour Joan.
Joan calls with the newspaper, milk and bread. She helps Mum stay involved in her community making sure she knows what is happening and bringing her all the neighbourhood news.”
What is Compassionate Communities?
Compassionate Communities is a Public Health approach to end of life care. It encourages communities to support people and their families who are finding life difficult due to having chronic or end of life conditions to remain in their own home if that is their wish and to maintain links with their community. It aims to enable all of us to live well within our communities to the very end of our lives.
The concept was developed by Professor Allan Kellehear in his book Compassionate Cities. He reminded us that health is everyone’s responsibility and that this includes death, dying and end of life care.
End of life care isn’t only about hospice and palliative care services. End of life care and death and dying are a social as well as a medical issue.
The concept has been interpreted in many different ways by different communities worldwide including Australia, Canada and India.
Examples in the UK and Ireland are St Joseph’s Hospice Hackney, Severn Hospice’s CoCo initiative, Cheshire’s Living Well, Dying Well and Milford Care in Limerick.
Why do we need Compassionate Communities?
People are living for longer with long term/chronic conditions and with that demands on our health and social provisions are changing, most people who are at the end of life want to live at home, more people live alone and do not have family nearby, there is a need to support those facing end of life, loss and bereavement, communities have the skills, knowledge, expertise and a role to play in end of life care.
What is happening in Derry/Londonderry?
Foyle Hospice is initiating a pilot project based in the Waterside area of the city working with Hillcrest House and Caw/Nelson Drive Community Groups and the 3 GP practices based in Waterside Health Centre to be delivered by March 2016.
There are 3 elements:

- establishing a compassionate neighbours scheme that links volunteers with those living with advanced illness and frailty to reduce social isolation and enable people to remain independently at home.

- community engagement which involves building links with interested groups to develop models and resources which allow greater public awareness of and involvement in the care and support of those who are approaching the end of life at home

- general awareness raising including a citywide conference on 18th February 2016 and an art exhibition
Compassionate Communities in Action – where are we up to?
Perhaps inevitably attention has focused on getting the volunteer scheme up and running.
Trained Compassionate Neighbours provide weekly contact to people who have become isolated as a result of illness.
Volunteer involvement is geared towards encouraging the person out of the house. It might be as simple as going for a cup of tea, enjoying a shared interest, doing a bit of shopping or a trip to the local community centre.
It is a befriending scheme and the role of the Compassionate Neighbour is to offer companionship not personal social care.
The service is available to anyone living in the pilot area whose ability to engage in their community is limited by frailty or advanced medical conditions.
A GP or Health and Social Care Professional identifies and refers a person to the Compassionate Communities Project Facilitator

Once a referral is received the facilitator visits the person to assess their needs and the type of support required.

Taking into account the personalities and interests of the volunteers and the people referred, geographical location, and the volunteers’ availability, the facilitator identifies an appropriate volunteer and contacts them to see if they would like to befriend the person.

If a volunteer is able to take on the person the facilitator will introduce the volunteer to the person.

The person and volunteer agree appointments to suit them both. Once the relationship is established and both people are happy the facilitator steps back but is available for advice and support should either person require it.

Regular discussion will take place to be sure that the person has all the support they need as far as is possible and that the volunteer is comfortable with their role.

Volunteers keep a record of their visits including dates of visits, duration of visits and type of activity undertaken and these are discussed at monthly reflective meetings.

The project will be independently evaluated in terms of the health and well-being of volunteers, the people who are befriended and carers and the impact on the reduction in the need for primary health care services.

To find out more contact

Linda Morris
Compassionate Communities Project Facilitator
Foyle Hospice
61 Culmore Road
BT48 8JE
02871 351010

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