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15th anniversary of pioneering Hospice at Home service

Saint Francis Hospice marks the 15th anniversary of a pioneering service which has enabled terminally ill patients to die in the comfort of their own home.
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Since it first started the Hospice at Home service has dramatically grown as more patients choose to spend the final weeks of their life at home with the same care and support they would have received in the hospice's in-patient unit. 

Last year 64% of the hospice's patients were able to die at home compared to just 33% in 2000. And there are now almost three times more home visits from health care workers than there were 15 years ago. 

"It is less stressful for patients at home," said Julie White, a health care assistant who was one of the original members of the Hospice at Home team. "There is no travelling to and from hospital and no restrictions on visiting hours so their families can stay by their bedside." 

Hospice at Home was initially set up thanks to the generosity of lifelong supporter Margaret Helene Markus who left a £400,000 legacy to the hospice. The project was initially funded for three years but was so successful that the hospice decided to continue the service. The team care for patients living in the boroughs of Barking & Dagenham, Havering and Brentwood and work alongside district nurses, Marie Curie and carers. 

And while the aim of the service remains the same, caring for patients at home is now much easier than it was all those years ago. 

"They have much more comfort at home than they used to have," said Julie, who received a long service award last month. "In the early days we did not have the equipment or the hospital beds.  

"It was a difficult job trying to look after someone in a low bed with no equipment. Now 95% of our patients have a hospital bed in their home and a pressure air mattress."

And even after 15 years of caring for patients in their homes Julie still enjoys her job. 

"I still remain as enthusiastic now as I was 15 years ago," she said. "It is a privilege to be part of their journey because death and dying is difficult for people to come to terms with. 

"The families make you so welcome and I find it very rewarding." 

The health care assistants will spend three to four hours at a time at a patient's home and this enables carers to have a much needed break. 

"We look after the whole family," said Julie. "The patient is our priority but at the same time we have to look after the husband or wife as they may be struggling too with what is happening. Some families have never experienced caring for someone they love who is dying and it is our privilege to be able to support them at this very precious time."