Reaching out to our Communities | St Joseph's Hospice

Reaching out to our Communities

The recent report highlighting that end of life care is not culturally competent has made for  interesting reading to the staff at St Joseph’s Hospice as we serve some of the most culturally diverse areas of the country. We provide specialist palliative care to patients in the London boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham, where over a third of our patients are at or below poverty level.

It’s therefore hugely important that we meet the varying needs and expectations of all our patients, their families and carers – and of course our staff - whatever their cultural, spiritual, ethnic background, gender or sexual orientation. As a result of our efforts 52% of our patients identify themselves as BAME, a balance that broadly speaking is reflected in our workforce. 

We are very aware that there are cultural barriers to attending hospices for some communities. The report says that “The concept the Asian community has of a hospice is a place you go to die”. While it is a big concern for this group, unfortunately this perception is not limited to them. It’s still a deeply rooted belief among a majority of the population whatever their cultural background that needs to be addressed.

We have been working hard to reach those who need our support. We have achieved this in a number of ways but being able to communicate effectively is key. Being able to represent multiple faiths is one way, so although we have a ‘St’ in our name, our chaplaincy includes a Catholic priest, a Church of England minister, a Rabbi and an Imam who are all actively involved in the Hospice day-to day. Additionally we operate a comprehensive language service – on any one day as many as 42 languages are spoken in the hospice* - as well as catering for culturally sensitive diets and cultural celebrations of all kinds.

But most important of all is education, and getting out to talk with our local communities is at the heart of our efforts. Just the other day a team from the Hospice visited a very large local mosque – the east London Mosque - a first for us and a really important step forward in building relationships with all of our communities.

The award winning Compassionate Neighbours project, which started at St Joseph’s Hospice, is a volunteer-led, movement of people who support each other to promote compassion in their communities. The project has attracted volunteers from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds and this has helped them stay connected to their community as well as family and friends.

Compassionate Neighbours provide volunteer-led support for anyone who is living with a long term or terminal illness, is elderly or frail, socially isolated or nearing the end of life through age or illness. Volunteers are trained at the Hospice, which brings new people through the doors, people who probably have never set foot in a Hospice, and shows them that it isn’t just a place to die, it’s actually more about living. In many respects the Compassionate Neighbours are the greatest advocates of hospice care, spreading the message to their families, friends and community.  

The Compassionate Neighbours project has now been rolled out to other hospices across the south east of England and, slowly but surely, we are getting the message out there that hospice care is for everyone. 

So while there’s no simple answer to ensure the delivery of culturally competent hospice care, hospices have a duty to work harder to reach out to the communities they serve and Compassionate Neighbours isn’t a bad place to start.

Tony McLean
Chief Executive

*By patients, families, callers, visitors and staff

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