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Hospice UK National Conference 2017 - compelling stories of bereavement support and a doctor’s campaign

Author: Leila Hawkins
23 November 2017
  • Dr Rachel Clarke

The second plenary of Hospice UK's National Conference covered two very different, yet equally compelling subjects: access to bereavement support, and the story of a junior doctor campaigning during last year's NHS strike.

The first half of the plenary featured Linda Magistris, founder and chief executive of The Good Grief Trust, a database listing local support organisations, practical tips and stories from people who have experienced bereavement. 

Linda, a former actress best known for appearing on BBC children's television show Grange Hill, explained to Dr Ros Taylor MBE, Palliative Physician at Royal Marsden and Hospice UK Associate, why bereavement support matters and why she founded the trust last year. 

After her husband died from soft tissue sarcoma three years ago, she had a hard time dealing with the death, finding herself shouting "where are you?" out loud in public. She went back and forth between GPs who suggested medication and looking for support groups although there were none in her local area, and there were no bereavement services at either of the two hospitals her husband was treated at. 

The lack of available help left her feeling abandoned, and at times she felt unable to get off the sofa. Then she found Widowed & Young, an organisation that had been going for 20 years. Her GP had never heard of it, she says partly due to lack of marketing by the charity, and partly due to the GP not having the resources to find services like these. 

Linda explained the importance of a database like the Good Grief Trust - 66 per cent of people who lose a spouse have an increased risk of dying within three months, and 15 per cent of all psychological disorders stem from grief that has been not dealt with.  

The database lists bereavement services for children, siblings, partners, young people, friends, parents and the older generations, and the trust firmly believes in getting in touch with the bereaved person on day one, to let them know they are available if they ever need support. 

The Trust is running various initiatives to encourage local communities to get together and share their experiences, and next year they are planning a series of pop-up Good Grief Cafes. 

The second half of the plenary focused on Dr Rachel Clarke, a journalist turned doctor in palliative medicine at Sobell House Hospice in Oxford, who discussed "On putting your head above the parapet; from journalism to junior doctor to leader."

"I used to tell stories for a living, now I listen to patient' stories to help them, along with my team" she began, before quoting author Philip Pullman: "after nourishment, shelter and companionship, what we most need are stories."

To illustrate this she cited the case of a child terrified of undergoing radiotherapy.  A play specialist came up with the idea of "magic thread" a length of invisible thread for the child to hold at one end and the parent by another, to show they are still being loved and protected. 

Rachel played an important role in last year's junior doctor pay dispute. She explained how it began when Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt gave a speech about there being a huge problem within the NHS caused by doctors not working enough weekends. "It felt like an accusation, and was reported in the media as such" she said.  This kicked off an ugly dispute over pay and the number of hours doctors were required to work, with the practitioners arguing for patient safety and the government maintaining they were striking to preserve their weekends, she explained. 

Using her background as a journalist Rachel began campaigning both in print and on screen, arguing against the facts and figures used by Hunt and how a seven day working week would put patient safety at risk. "Being a leader is telling a story that is true" she said. 

Other highlights of day one included the Research 'get together', Hospice UK's recently appointed Project ECHO programme director Max Watson discussing the project in action, and Peering over the Precipice: from scenarios to action. 

For more information visit Hospice UK National Conference 2017

See more articles in People and places

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