What is your role here and what does your job involve?
As a consultant in palliative medicine it is my job to make sure that people with a diagnosis of life-shortening illnesses have the best possible quality of life for the time they have left. Using a combination of medicine and care we have to make sure the patient feels as normal as possible in very abnormal circumstances. I work as a consultant and it may be my name on the end of a patient’s bed but I am reliant on the entire team to look after the patient and make sure they have the best care possible. I could not do my job without them and the emotions we go through in palliative care have to be shared to be coped with.
Why did you want to do this for a living?
For me, I chose to specialise in palliative medicine because it has the right mix of medicine and care. It is about understanding disease and also having the time for patients and family. In some branches of medicine time is something always of the essence and there is a sense of urgency. In palliative care, to do things right, you have to make time, to sit with a patient for as long as necessary and give them your full attention. Not many people can sit down with someone and tell them they are dying. It is definitely emotionally draining to work with people who are so frequently coping with the worst kind of news. It is about learning how not to have an answer – perhaps this is the most challenging part. As a consultant in many other kinds of medicine, you are there to make things better, to come up with the solution and help someone heal. This is not always the case in palliative medicine. But in our own way we provide optimism and hope. It is enriching experience working in this specialty. It is a privilege to care for patients in this stage of life. Of course, you need a team of brilliant people around you and a good work life balance.
What do you like about working at Derby Teaching Hospitals in particular?
The staff here are among the best I have worked with. A good nurse has an ability to empathise with almost any patient, to see things from their perspective and understand. They have the ability to listen and communicate; not just to the patient but then to the team around them. I can’t do my job without the information communicated to me by the nurses and health care assistants who spend so much time with the patients. In Derby we have, in palliative care, such dedicated, thoughtful and professional nurses and healthcare assistants. Patients just seem to enjoy time with them. The Nightingale Macmillan Unit has a strong sense of identity, too, a real team mentality and this makes work here a pleasure.
Why did you decide to take part in the programme?
I felt that a balanced documentary needed to look at birth, life and death equally. The perception of specialist palliative care I encounter commonly is that we only look after dying patients, that we are just end of life care. End of life care is a part of what we do; we do a lot more before the end of someone’s life. Yes, sadly the time they have left to live is limited but as a team we ensure the patient and their families are supported over this duration. So I saw the opportunity to show what we do on this unit, to show that it is not some terrible dark place where the wind whistles through the ward, some dungeon-like last stop, there is optimism and hope here.
I also wanted other parts of the hospital to see what we do. The demand for specialist palliative care involvement is growing and we have a team which goes out into the other wards to provide it and we are seeing more people coming into our department. I think it will be a surprise for people who work within healthcare to see what happens on a specialist palliative care unit.
How was it working with the camera and crew?
When I first started working with the production crew I had concerns about how patients would be treated. But it is a credit to the production team that they built rapport and gained trust of the patients, relatives and staff. When Glyn (patient featured in the specialist palliative care unit episode) arrived on the unit we thought he would be able to go home, initially. He was in a lot of pain but I approached him and told him about the documentary, what the crew were doing and how the footage would be used. He agreed to be part of the filming. It was entirely his decision and his wife supported him. He knew I was there with him and that I would listen to him but he wanted to show the world what was happening to him and the treatment we were providing for him. Right the way through his story, he insisted on the filming. Here was a young man with a young family and he wanted to share his story with the world in the hope it could do some good.
How do you think viewers will react to the programme – especially the parts you appear in?
When they see Glyn’s story it is bound to evoke emotions ranging from rooting for him to get better to empathising with him and his family towards the end. I am hoping the viewers will see and appreciate the team working which goes on behind the scenes and the immense satisfaction we derive from working in this specialty.
What are the moments you’ll remember from the experience?
Filming Glyn’s diagnosis was memorable. I was very concerned about the presence of the cameras but Glyn insisted; he wanted it all to be captured. The producer set things up to be minimally intrusive and so what you see on camera is very natural.