St Luke’s care extends to isolated rural areas as well as across Plymouth and large towns, and we’re all too aware that not everyone has equal access to healthcare, particularly when it comes to the specialist care needed when a person is approaching the end of life.

While most people with a terminal illness want to die at home, we know that those living in rural areas suffer less choice with end of life care than their urban counterparts and many simply cannot die at home, due to a lack of care agencies.

As part of our Compassionate Communities initiative – which aims to facilitate communities where everyone recognises we all have a role in supporting each other, particularly during periods of crisis or loss – we are keen to enable choice and compassion in rural as well as urban areas, benefiting both the dying person and their loved ones caring for them at home as it is these ‘informal’ carers who can often feel very isolated and unsure where to turn for help.

Earlier this year, at the Who Cares in Kingsbridge event, we met individuals and voluntary groups from the rural market town who told us that while they’re keen to work together in a supportive network, this could not succeed without a dedicated individual to provide a co-ordinated approach.

They spoke and we listened! And now, following a successful bid to Hospice UK for grant funding, we are set to employ a Community Network Co-ordinator for Kingsbridge. Once appointed, they will work across the patch to help build up the community’s capacity to support people at the end of life and the loved ones caring.

Crucially, the role will focus on development and training of individuals as Compassionate Friends, including producing a toolkit and ‘training’ them to do the ‘little’ things – such as making meals, shopping, providing a listening ear and company – that make a big difference to those going through such challenging times. The Co-ordinator will also train up Compassionate Champions, who can in turn train Compassionate Friends in much the same way that Dementia Champions nurture Dementia Friends.

Central to this new post will be developing and training volunteer end of life compassionate co-ordinators to co-ordinate networks in the area, creating Compassionate Friends and working alongside existing voluntary groups to support carers in a joined-up way, to work with formal care-givers such as nurses and personal assistants (paid carers) to wrap services around the carer and the person they look after.

A key outcome of this project will be healthcare professionals recognising and legitimising informal caring networks. With many individuals and groups to consider, another important outcome will be an ‘asset map’ of the community, a helpful resource that can be accessed online by both the public and professionals.

In addition, the ‘My Supportive Network’ tool produced will allow carers to identify their local supportive network and enable them to tap into voluntary services that can help.

This community project aims to support and train 350 people and make a real difference in Kingsbridge and surrounding areas with a model that can then be tailored to benefit other communities, too.

Gail Wilson, Deputy Director of Clinical Services and Head of Education at St Luke’s, said: “Death, dying and bereavement are inevitable parts of life but they are not primarily medical events. We know that end of life care and the experiences of those who are left behind impacts on them hugely, and we need to develop new ways of working that provide more help and support both while their loved one is alive and after.

“St Luke’s is committed to working with our local communities, such as Kingsbridge, to realise the potential of informal networks and develop a more effective model that promotes compassionate carer support and choice for those at the end of life, so that they can die at home with those they love.”