Dr Idris Baker’s interview with Chris Peregrine of the South Wales Evening Post

Consultant aims to dispel myths about roles of hospices.

AS anniversaries go, it was a pretty special one. Swansea’s hospice, Ty Olwen, a comfort to so many, had clocked up 30 years service.

But if that 2011 landmark was a time to pause and reflect on its remarkable achievements over three decades, it was also business as usual.

It is the same this year, and will be the next . . .

And any help the public can give in backing up the money and expertise provided by the NHS will be welcomed, as it has always been.

So Ty Olwen Trust’s appeal — backed by the Evening Post — for everyone in the Swansea and Neath Port Talbot catchment area to give £1 to ensure it can run at full throttle for the next year has been welcomed by ABM’s consultant in palliative medicine Idris Baker, who spends much of his time there.

“I think it is fantastic news and offers great encouragement,” he says.

“It is important to sustain it. The money raised by the trust is such an important part of keeping the service going. The work goes on.

“The majority of our funding is by the NHS, but the additional funds that Ty Olwen Trust is able to put in enables us to do more than we would be able to do without it. We are able to do more for the people we see, and we are able to support more patients and families.

“We would not be able to do nearly as much as we can. The difference the service makes is that without it we wouldn’t be able to go that extra mile. It offers support for the volunteers, who, although not paid of course, mean a cost that goes with it.

“The volunteers keep the place afloat. A lot of that is down to the trustees. A lot of the therapy, things like occupational therapy, is funded directly by the trustees. Some of the complementary therapies, which people are able to access, is the same. Those kind of things are not provided as part of NHS services. And some of the nursing time is provided directly by the trustees.”

The hospice has 14 specialist palliative care beds, taking in patients from home, hospitals or care homes.

“A lot of it is about working on the physical symptoms that arise from the illness,” says Dr Baker. “It could be cancer or other life-limiting illnesses. But a lot of what we do is about more than physical symptoms, supporting people with the worries which quite understandably arise when you are dealing with a serious illness.

“We know when we talk to people who are seriously ill that one of the things that they want is for their families to be supported, so that is a big part of what we do as well.”

Dr Baker is keen to dispel the popular image of Ty Olwen as a place of no hope when you enter the doors as a patient.

“When people come here as in-patients on average they are here for a couple of weeks,” he says.

“It varies. Some are here for a bit longer and some for a bit shorter. The aim for many of them is to be able to get them home or closer to home once their symptoms have been sorted out, so they can actually live better.

“Let’s be blunt. I think it was seen as a death house and I think hospices all over the UK have been seen in the same way. Maybe that has changed. I am not sure it was ever really accurate anyway.

“We all know about people who have gone into hospices and died there. Some people need to go into them at the end of their lives, but it is not all of them.

“Really a lot of people who come in here do so to get a bit of a fix, to get some symptoms sorted out and turn things around and get back home with a better quality of life. A lot of them go home.”

But the physical building in the grounds of Morriston Hospital is not the full story of Ty Olwen by a long way.

“Most of what we do is not actually about the inpatients we support in this building,” adds Dr Baker.

So across Swansea and Neath Port Talbot the trust has around 170 patients on its books, supported in the home, in care homes and hospitals. And outpatients pop in for treatment as well.

“We often support people at home to fix the problems,” he says. “They may not see anything of us for a little while, but they will get in touch with us when they need us.

“Historically Ty Olwen has been very strongly associated with cancer, which is pretty much what we did, but it is not any more. We know that most people who are living with life-limiting illness have not got cancer. Cancer needs a lot of support and I hope they get plenty of that, but there are other people with other illnesses too.

“We see people at home, in care homes and as outpatients. We have specialist nurses, doctors and consultants, with access to physiotherapy, occupational therapy, specialist social work support, a day service.

“Most of the people we see are not in the hospice.”

So the old image is at best misleading.

“I think most people don’t know the range of services we provide,” he says.

“You wouldn’t know that unless you are needing them. The way sometimes people see it can be a bit of a barrier to people taking up that support when they need it.

“Certainly some patients and families worry if you mention somewhere like Ty Olwen because they think that means something terrible and it doesn’t. What it means is here’s a way to get the support you are needing.”

Dr Baker pays tribute to the pioneers of Ty Olwen all those years ago and the staff.

“It was created by a voluntary organisation, they built the building and handed it over to the NHS to run it,” he says. “They continued pouring in funding. There is a reason they started it, and that is what I keep fixing on.

“In the late 1970s they knew there was a need for a hospice because there were people whose needs could not be met as they should be, either at home or in hospitals.

“The teams that works here at one time or another is 70 and then there are the volunteers.

“They are just a fantastic team. Every patient I see tells me how great they are. They are very dedicated and they know pretty much everything about how to do their job. They just work so well together and the volunteers play a really important part as well.

“It was the first hospice of its kind in Wales and they were ahead of the game. If they hadn’t done that, we would be campaigning now to get one started.”

With a growing population as people live longer, Dr Baker expects busy times ahead.

“We expect the number of people who need this kind of support to increase,” he says. “They have been falling over the past half century. Whether they are going to be beds here, in hospital, a home or at home, we are probably going to have more people who need the support.

“One, it means we have got something that works and two, it means that the population as a whole understand what we are here for, so they are not reluctant to accept that support that can help them.

“The work goes and this year is just as important as last year, and next year will be just as important and so on.

“I am probably going to be here for the next 30 years and the service is going to be. And it needs the support because we can do more with that support than we can do without it.

“I think it is as simple as that.”



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