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The importance of supporting dying people to make meaningful choices is being highlighted as Earl Mountbatten Hospice marks Occupational Therapy Week (7th to 13th November 2016).

Occupational Therapy in a hospice setting aims to improve the patient’s quality of life by minimising the effects of disease or its treatment. It also supports people to maintain their independence and adapt to their changing condition, at the same time supporting families and carers.

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Michelle Lennox is the hospice’s Occupational Therapy lead and manages a team, which includes Physiotherapists, an Occupational Therapy Assistant and trained volunteer therapy assistants. The team sees patients in their own homes, residential care homes, on the hospice ward (Inpatient Unit) and as outpatients in the John Cheverton Centre. Increasingly, the team supports patients with palliative conditions other than cancer, including neurological conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

The team could be supporting any of the 600 people currently known to the hospice’s community team, working alongside the Clinical Nurse Specialists. Referral to the Occupational Therapy Service is via referral to the Palliative Care Team at Earl Mountbatten Hospice.

Michelle says her role is about helping people coming to the end of their life to do what is important to them. This can cover a vast range of areas; from ensuring specialist equipment is available to provide comfort and independence to the patient, to emotional and practical support strategies for families coping with changing demands. It involves many aspects of care; social, emotional and physical, and supports patients and their families to set goals during rehabilitation and enabling patients to make meaningful choices.

One of the most important elements of an Occupational Therapist’s role in a hospice is being adaptable, according to Michelle. She recalls a recent situation where the team went to a patient’s home to assess how her ability to do everyday tasks was changing.

“During the day, the patient was much more awake and able to function. However, the problems she was facing were overnight, so we changed our working pattern to mean that we could visit her at 7am whilst her daughter was also there.

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“This meant that we were able to reassess the patient for the most appropriate equipment. Without this support, the patient would have had to been hoisted in a less dignified way or even become bed bound. Being there with her daughter in the early morning reduced the stress her carer was feeling and also meant we were able to find a much better solution to make the patient more comfortable”.

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