Occupational therapy is a health profession which enables people to participate in everyday activities to the best of their ability despite their condition, illness progression and activity limitations, so our skilled professionals in this field are integral to St Luke’s holistic, seamless care for patients at home, in hospital and at our specialist unit at Turnchapel.

But while many people are aware of our occupational therapists’ (OTs) role in providing the right equipment to help terminally ill patients maintain as much independence as possible, their expertise and remit is much wider than this, though not generally well understood.

Andrea Doherty, OT with St Luke’s, said: “When someone terminally ill is in the last weeks and days of life, their condition can deteriorate rapidly, which is very distressing for them and those around them. Our role is to help keep them as safe and comfortable as possible at home, or support them at the specialist unit at Turnchapel.”

Recently, the team was able to source and deliver a special bed to a patient’s home within just four hours, but just as with all St Luke’s care and support, it is more than equipment that’s provided by our compassionate team. The OTs pride themselves on being highly responsive and seeing patients extremely quickly; this can make all the difference in keeping people in their own home, and safe from harm.

Such swift action is even more essential when a patient’s condition changes suddenly and a rapid response is required to help them and their family at home and avoid any unnecessary admission to hospital. That’s why our OTs are now an integral part of St Luke’s Urgent Care Service (a partnership with Marie Curie South West), which mobilises very quickly following just one call from a healthcare professional.

Andrea says: “As well as their safety and comfort, I am always mindful of patients’ dignity, too. It is really important that they feel understood and respected at all times.”

Working as part of a multidisciplinary team with other health professionals, including our doctors, nurses, physiotherapist and health care assistants (HCAs), our OTs assess patients and also use feedback from other colleagues involved in the person’s care to create a treatment plan that’s bespoke, helping the patient remain engaged in everyday activities as far as possible and live well until the end.

Andrea said: “Listening to the person’s story is really important because as their OT I effectively go on their journey with them to help them live as fully as possible throughout the time they have left, setting realistic goals as appropriate.

“Being part of the wider team at St Luke’s is so helpful. For example, our HCAs are often my ‘eyes and ears’ – their knowledge of the patient and their observations about them and their circumstances are very valuable when it comes to the treatment plan I create and also to adapting it as the person’s condition changes, such as their skin becoming more fragile.

“My role involves having difficult discussions with the patient and also with their family because it’s important that everyone involved is realistic in their understanding of the situation. Having really good communication skills and being empathic is absolutely essential to what I do.”

“As well as listening, I observe what the patient is able to do and discuss what’s important to them not just physically but socially and emotionally, too.

“It can be very challenging as emotions are, understandably, often very raw because that person is dealing with huge loss, including loss of function and role, and those around them are having to adapt, too.”

So, while practical considerations that often require ‘out of the box’ thinking – such as deciding on the patient’s bed positioning, how to help them reach a drink most easily and steps to avoid pressure sores – are central to Andrea’s job, coming alongside patients and their families to help prepare them emotionally during such a challenging time is critical, too.

So there you have it, a brief insight into the pivotal role played by our OTs, and the difference their expertise makes at the most vulnerable of times.