Compassionate Communities: An International Perspective…

In the lead up to this week’s #PallANZ Tweet Chat with @PCACEO
and @Palliverse, we are very fortunate to feature the contribution
of Dr Heather Richardson, Joint Chief Executive,
St Christopher’s Hospice London
, sharing with us from her
experience, insights into building compassionate communities—
an international perspective from which we all can learn and benefit…


Dr Heather Richardson

Prior to her current role as Joint Chief Executive at St Christopher’s,
Dr Richardson held posts of National Clinical Lead for Help the Hospices,
and Strategy Advisor at St Joseph’s Hospice. She has a wealth of experience as a general, mental health, and palliative care nurse; and holds a Master’s degree in Health Management as well as a PhD.

In 2015, Dr Richardson was appointed an Honorary Professor of the International Observatory on End of Life Care at Lancaster University, and her work is featured in Compassionate Communities: Case Studies from Britain and Europe, edited by Klaus Wegleitner, Katharina Heimerl, and Allan Kellehear.


Dr Richardson is in Australia presenting a Keynote Address at the 2016 Palliative Care Victoria Conference (if you haven’t already – you should register now!), and she very kindly gave time from her busy schedule to speak with us about our #PallANZ discussion this week on Compassionate Communities:


So, what is a compassionate community – and how is it relevant to hospice and palliative care?

This is a great question and one that a number of us have been pondering in the UK. There is a growing belief amongst hospices and others that compassionate communities could help improve the experience of dying and loss in the UK. This change is a key aspiration on the part of hospices and other palliative care services.

Compassionate communities have a similar aim and it is this mutual ambition that makes compassionate communities relevant to hospice and palliative care. Most importantly hospices are increasingly realizing that even with the best will in the world they will never achieve the reach, their vision that death and bereavement is seen as part of life, and the improvements in care required without drawing on the energies, relationships and connections in communities.


What challenges then, must we overcome to promote compassionate communities?

These challenges are significant but there is real appetite on the part of many in the UK to overcome them. Research being undertaken by Sallnow in East London, currently unreported, confirms that individuals and communities who see themselves as the first members of a local compassionate community, highly value the contribution being made by their local hospice to support their efforts. This suggests that hospices do have a role to play, but there is no doubt that they will have to change the way they work if they are to be effective in promoting and supporting compassionate communities.

In particular they will need to review their approach to risk management, which can serve to constrain the potential contribution of volunteers. They will also need to consider carefully how individuals working as part of a compassionate community are described and positioned. To whom do they belong and have accountability? Are they similar or different to traditional hospice volunteers and is that term transferable? Thinking differently about training will also be necessary. Moving from a place where training focused on “doing things the hospice way” to helping people recognise and harness their own capacity and that of the community to which they belong is a significant shift.


In what ways can we build meaningful and effective partnerships between palliative care professionals and the broader community?

These partnerships will be vital if significant improvement in the experience of people who are dying or bereaved is to be achieved.

Hospices are in a privileged position in this respect. Many were conceived by the communities that they serve and enjoy prolonged and vital partnerships around fundraising and volunteers. If they can make the shift in mind-set from a professionally driven service to a community enabled network of mutual support around death, dying and loss they will be able to build on these relationships to the benefit of local people.

Hospices and other palliative care services are also well integrated into health and social care systems. With an open mind and a generous spirit, they could become part of a rich web of partnerships that draw together their staff and volunteers, statutory providers of health and social care, commissioners, policy makers, community development organisations and most importantly community leaders, members and groups. Their work together will be key to transforming care which for many is currently unsatisfactory and of an unacceptably poor quality.


SO, dear readers, given that the UK is an international leader in building
compassionate communities, what can WE all LEARN from the UK experience?

Join us on Wednesday 27th July to share your thoughts during the #PallANZ Tweet Chat on Compassionate Communities.

@Palliverse and @PCACEO are extremely grateful for the generosity of Dr Heather Richardson in sharing her invaluable insights with us. You can see Heather present the Keynote Address at the Palliative Care Victoria Conference on Thursday 28th July; Bayview Eden Hotel, Melbourne Australia. Register now!


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