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World Social Work Day: "My role is to be alongside people."

Briony Townshend is a palliative care social worker. She works within our family support team, alongside fellow social worker, Sandy. Together, the pair support both patients and their carers at all stages of their involvement with the hospice. Here, Briony talks us through her working day on World Social Work Day... 
Hospice Walk On group
I managed to arrange a varied day for myself on World Social Work Day; totally unintentionally but hopefully it'll give you more of an insight into what I do. I think a lot of people have an idea about what a social worker is and does... my aim today is to show you it may not be all that you think!   

The day kicks off with a multi-disciplinary team meeting, which involves staff members from  the Day Therapy unit, including nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapist, doctors and of course, myself as the social worker.

We discuss people under the care of our day therapy unit, to see whether anyone would benefit from social work support, for example help with benefits advice -which can be very confusing to someone who has never dealt with them before, - or emotional support.  I  also do a lot of work to support carers.  

At the end of the meeting I leave with some tasks to do; to telephone a carer to offer emotional support and a home visit to check support at home.  

I work closely with my colleague Sandy, here checking our diaries!

I remain in day therapy for our new patient assessments. This is where people come and visit the hospice to find out if the day therapy services could help them and we find out exactly what each individual and carer would need from our support. 

I always meet the carers, who could be husbands, wives, children, parents or friends. We speak in a separate room to  find out how they are doing and what support they could benefit from. This gives them a chance to open up and talk about what is really bothering them.  

We organise a number of groups and workshops for carers as well as offering one to one support  The  thing I love most about my work is spending time with people, really  listening to them .   

This was us at a stress busting day for carers last year, as part of our support to carers in our community.

This afternoon I visited an elderly gentlemen who was referred to me by our community nurses, who felt he was vulnerable and would  benefit from an urgent  visit. 

Today I did my usual holistic assessment, which includes looking at the environment in which a person is living, checking that their personal care needs are being met,  determining how they function at home, enabling their support networks and assessing financial wellbeing. It's then up to me to resolve any issues discovered. This may involve seeking help from one of our physiotherapists or our community nurse specialists or perhaps liaising with the social services or district nurse for further support.   

Finally, I went to see Denise, who lives in Romford. Denise is 48, a married mum of one and has terminal secondary breast cancer. I met her when she was first referred us three years ago, but as her condition progressed we resumed visits for emotional support. This is a common occurrence in my job - I often see people at different stages of their involvement with the hospice. 

Me with Denise this afternoon.

We discuss the impact of cancer on her life and her relationships. Sadly, Denise received some bad news yesterday, so that was a key focus of our conversation today.   

While I was with her, I asked Denise to share a bit about how our support helps her... she told me...   

"We talk through all my thoughts and fears, because at some point I know I'll be dying. She just listens to me and offers me advice on how I can deal with it, because it's such a burden on my family. It's nice to be able to talk to someone else who is a little bit removed and understands; it it's made a significant difference. I was really looking forward to today's visit following the news I received yesterday... knowing Briony was coming got me through the day."        

I don't think a lot of people understand the role of a social worker. My role is about being alongside people and supporting them through a life-limiting condition and everything it brings. My role can be emotionally taxing but I work with an extremely supportive team, but ultimately I see it as a huge privilege to be involved with someone at this stage of their lives. I love working at the hospice because it gives me such an opportunity to get involved with people in a meaningful way. 

View the family support team page for more information on how we can help you.