The difference outpatient services can make

“Knowing there are people here who care, that’s very important.”

A group of outpatients with life-limiting illnesses tell Tony Wenham how a specialist unit in Norwich provides the practical help and positive outlook they need to cope with life.

A woman who cheated death thanks to the intervention of a unique medical team is quietly concentrating on her adult colouring book.

Arriving at Priscilla Bacon Lodge, the specialist palliative care centre run by Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust (NCH&C) at the Colman Road Hospital in Norwich, suffering with sepsis, heart and kidney failure the prognosis was bleak for Wendy Steward.

“They told my husband I wouldn’t make it through the night,” she says.

That was more than three years ago and, although Mrs Steward is still suffering from life-limiting illnesses, today she is a weekly outpatient at the Lodge’s Rowan Centre specialist day unit.

Three times I was an inpatient on the ward, once for three months. They literally saved my life,” she adds. “I cannot say enough for them.”

A former company director, now based at South Walsham, she relishes her day-long visits to the day centre where she enjoys her art work, while others can develop crafts or receive physiotherapy as well as counselling in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

However, after 40 years and with a growing and ageing local population, the trustees of the Hospice feel the time is right for a new state-of-the-art centre and this year launched the Priscilla Bacon Hospice appeal, seeking £12.5 million for the new-build 24-bed hospice to be built on a semi-rural site close to the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital.

Currently, the appeal stands at just over £3.7 million.

Norfolk needs 47-59 specialist palliative care beds, but has just 16 – all in Priscilla Bacon Lodge. Ever-increasing demand, for inpatient beds as well as day and respite care means that greater capacity is desperately needed.

The new hospice will offer the most modern facilities, plus a wider range of community day care and out-patient services, giving those who require care a greater breadth of choice.

Like the current lodge, it will focus on enabling a “good death”, caring for patients and supporting loved ones through and beyond bereavement.

Meanwhile, at the Rowan Centre, Mrs Steward, 71, explains: “Knowing there are people here who care and that if I need someone to talk to there’s always someone there, that’s very important for the people visiting.”

Patients are generally referred to NCH&C’s day care unit by a GP and the resultant waiting list is managed on the basis of need.

“We can provide a whole range of services to help people continue staying in their normal home,” says NCH&C’s generic therapist Sue Walland, who has been working at the centre for the last nine years.

Outpatients have access to doctors and specialist counselling, which is also available to the families as well as patients.

Cancer sufferer Kate, who prefers not to use her full name, is now able to drive herself in to the centre from her south Norfolk home.

At the beginning of the year she was unable to leave the house without oxygen tanks and had a very restricted and reduced quality of life. However, the weekly contact with the medical team, who have monitored and adjusted her medication regime, has enabled Kate to lead a more autonomous life. She describes her visits as “the highlight of my week”. We all meet up and compare notes,”

“Sometimes you won’t feel well enough to talk to people, but here you can do what you want,” she says. “No one puts any pressure on you.”

She adds: “It’s a massive shock when they tell you that you’re going to die. It took me a couple of months to process it. Then you adapt and become used to what you are dealing with.

“From feeling like I wanted to die, I now feel much better for coming here.”