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Compassion and care bring final days comfort

The final days of a beloved relative are among the most testing that any family will experience.

As regular and reassuring visitors to the homes of families coming to terms with imminent bereavement, community nurses know that compassion is as important to their role as clinical expertise – particularly at times of loss.

When Don Bridgewater’s health began to fail, Birmingham Community Healthcare’s district nurses became a source of valued practical and emotional support, attending to his medical needs and giving his wife Linda whatever assistance she needed.

Above all, the number one priority was to try and provide the care Don needed for long-term complex health conditions in his and Linda’s own home in New Oscott for as long as possible.

Linda Bridgewater and district nurse Paula Bennett
Linda Bridgewater and district nurse Paula Bennett

District nurse Paula Bennett was just one of the nurses whose dedication to caring made such a difference to the Bridgewater family.

“Don, Linda and their family were a very solid unit, making sure he was well cared for at home,” said Paula.

“We would normally come in about once a fortnight to check they had all the support they needed and change Don’s dressings. And we also worked closely with our colleagues in the specialist heart failure team and the case management team to support the family'.

“The key to providing excellent care for people nearing the end of their life is to make sure their wishes, and those of their loved ones, are put ahead of everything else.

“So, the whole focus was on caring for Don at home as much as possible, in familiar surroundings with his family around him. “

A couple of stays in Good Hope Hospital and a week in John Taylor Hospice became necessary when Don’s health needed stabilising. And when the father of three and grandfather of eight finally passed away, Linda says the whole family took some comfort from the ring of care that had been built around them.

Linda and Don met in 1966 when he was home on leave from military service with the Coldstream Guards.

During an armed forces career spanning two decades, Don completed three tours of duty in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles, was a keen rugby player and spent dozens of days and nights on sentry duty at Royal palaces, castle and residences.

“We met when he came home from leave with a friend who was going to set him up with his sister, a friend of mine,” remembers Linda, aged 66.

“I thought he was very good-looking as soon as I met him and so what’s a girl to do? I stepped straight in! I lost a friend that day but it was worth it - I gained a wonderful husband.”

“It was so hard to see his health failing and so I was more than grateful for the support of all the nurses and the efforts they made to keep him at home with his family, which is all he wanted. He really looked forward to their visits, they really cheered him up.

“He was always so active and full of life and loved to spend time with the grandchildren, telling them his stories of when he looked after the Royal Family.

“Like the nights when Princess Margaret, his favourite Royal, would bring the guards at Windsor Castle a cup of hot chocolate late at night and chat to them. Or when the young Prince Edward would deliberately go in and out of the doors at Buckingham Palace so they had to keep presenting arms. He was a real patriot and very proud of his time in the army.”

“We all miss him terribly but it’s some comfort that he was so well cared for at the end of his life and that everything that happened with his care was focussed on what he wanted.”

Don Bridgewater on military service in N Ireland, early 70s
Don Bridgewater on military service in Northern Ireland during the early seventies.

Last year, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) rated BCHC’s end-of-life care both for adults and children as ‘outstanding’.

As part of a continuing commitment to developing community-based care of the highest quality, BCHC plans to recruit an end-of-life care clinical champion with a specific remit to focus on ways of improving the care and support offered in the final months of a patient’s life.

Medical director Dr Andy Wakeman said: “There is always more we can do to improve the quality of care we deliver to patients during their final days.

“The Trust recognises the considerable and increasing pressure that the divisions are under from the rising demand for these services in the community.”

As part of our mission to meet the needs of every community, BCHC is developing a range of bespoke services for former members of the armed forces and their families.

The Trust has been recognised as one of nine nationally designated veteran amputee rehabilitation centres in England and is working to become an ‘armed forces community-friendly Trust’, better able to meet the needs of armed forces personnel, veterans and their families and to help them understand how the NHS can meet their expectations.

Ultimately, the aim is to ensure the armed forces community live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives post-service and become recognised as a beacon of best practice on how best to support armed forces communities across the UK.