It’s official – Plymouth has been recognised as the first compassionate city for those at end of life in England!

The accolade for Plymouth is from Public Health Palliative Care International in recognition of the commitment the city has made – and work already under way – towards meeting the objectives of the End of Life Compassionate City Charter. This charter provides a framework outlining social actions relating to death, dying and loss, to be delivered in partnership with communities and individuals for the benefit of everyone in the city.

A compassionate city or community is one that recognises that care for one another at times of crisis and loss is not simply a task solely for health and social services but is everyone’s responsibility. It was in May 2018 that St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth hosted the Plymouth, a Compassionate City: What can you do? conference attended by organisations ranging from schools and places of worship to solicitors, GP surgeries and voluntary groups and Plymouth City Council.

While acknowledging the great progress the city has made in creating compassionate communities for homeless and prison populations, key speaker Professor Allan Kellehear of Bradford University challenged Plymouth to do more, stating that: “Every day people die and hearts are broken. Death and dying are more than medical issues and caring for those affected is not just the role of the doctor and the chaplain. End of life care is everyone’s responsibility and we all have a practical role to play.”

He asked the city to adopt a public health approach to dealing with the lasting impacts of death, dying and loss on individuals in our city and to implement the End of Life Compassionate City Charter. Having a city-wide end of life network working in partnership with the City Council, as well as other public bodies and local charities, will ensure Plymouth is a city that does not shy away from the ‘taboo’ subjects of death, dying and bereavement but talks openly about them.

Across the city, people will be more informed and compassionate towards those facing end of life, or experiencing loss and bereavement. Delegates demonstrated overwhelming support for the charter and the creation of an end of life network for Plymouth and the surrounding communities that is made up of individuals, groups and organisations working together to deliver the charter’s aims.

Councillor Kate Taylor, Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care, said: “The Compassionate City Charter for end of life care gives us all a framework to work towards. The challenges it will help us meet are particularly pertinent to Plymouth as a growing city with a rising number of over-65s. There are increasing demands on health and social care services as care becomes more complex and end of life needs grow compounded by a national funding crisis in social care. Death and dying are more than medical issues and caring for those affected is not just the role of doctors, we all have a role to play. We fully support this approach and will work with our community to turn aspiration into action.”

Ruth Harrell, Director of Public Health for Plymouth, said: “Everyone agrees with the need to have a more compassion approach to those at end of life but how do we make it a reality across our city? By taking a public health approach to end of life care, we can give a voice to all those affected by death, dying, bereavement and loss and work together to create a city that does not shy away from their needs but provides a compassionate collective response.”

CEO of St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, Steve Statham added: “We have a key role to play in supporting our community and networks in times of crisis and loss. This charter is about how we can work together towards extending the support we give to people at a most difficult time in their life”.

The initiative which is being co-ordinated and led by Gail Wilson, Deputy Director of Clinical Services at St Luke’s, said: “Across the city and the wider communities there are many examples of individuals and groups going the extra mile to support people during times of sickness, bereavement and loss, from providing a listening ear to helping with practical things such as walking the dog and collecting shopping.

“I have been amazed by what various organisations and individuals across the city have achieved in the past 18 months, with the support of the compassionate community team at St Luke’s .This is really a great start but there is much more to do, so I would encourage anybody who wants to be involved to sign up to the network and join us, so together we can create compassionate networks where we live and work so that no-one at end of life or experiencing bereavement and loss feels isolated or alone.”

For more information about the EOL Compassionate City Charter click here.

Compassion is at the heart of the service that we provide at St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth. This is no different for our newly appointed Community Network Co-ordinator, Robyn Newport. For more than six months, Robyn has been out and about in the town, getting to know local business owners, voluntary groups and healthcare services to get more insight into what matters to them when it comes to living with terminal illness, looking after someone with it, and dealing with loss.

These conversations have helped shape the Compassionate End of Life Care Community that’s now established in the town, which – being in a rural area – is all the more needed since residents can find it harder to access services of all kinds, including the expert care that’s so vital when your time is running short.

Robyn said: “We are committed to coming alongside the communities we serve to realise the potential of informal networks and develop more effective ways to provide compassionate carer support and choice for people at end of life, so they can die in familiar surroundings with those they love.

“It’s a real privilege getting to know so many people, and it’s clear there’s so much care and compassion within Kingsbridge and the surrounding area. We now have 72 Compassionate Friends across the town – these are people who lend a helping hand or friendly ear to friends and neighbours who have a life limiting illness or are affected by loss.

“Our Compassionate Friends have spoken openly and honestly, helping to break down the taboos around death, dying and bereavement, and bust the unhelpful myths that surround them. They’ve thought about how they can have more compassionate conversations within their own circles and have seen first-hand how listening and doing small things to help people at times of crisis or loss can make such a huge difference.”

We would like to thank everyone in Kingsbridge who took part in Dying Matters Week earlier this year – you can see a review here.

Robyn is also encouraging more local people to get in touch. She said: “I’m keen to hear from those who caring for someone or have lost someone close to them. Those who might be needing extra support and would perhaps like someone to talk to.”

You can contact Robyn by e-mail or by phone on 01752 964250.

Looking to the next six months, Robyn is aiming to increase the number of Compassionate Friends, Champions and Co-ordinators in the area. She’s also looking forward to working with primary and secondary schools and local hospital teams to realise the potential of informal networks, developing more effective ways to provide compassionate support that helps ensure no-one in need feels isolated or overlooked.