Having a GP working at the Northfleet hospice is a real bonus for the ellenor charity, its staff and most of all – its patients.
Dr Sarah Thurgood is fulfilling a long-held ambition by working at the hospice, where she is now a Senior Speciality Doctor for two to three days a week and is working towards the new Specialist Grade introduced for doctors.
She said: “I grew up locally and have a long history with ellenor. It started when I was in the school sixth form and volunteered at the hospice. First of all, I was in the kitchen and then I took the drinks trolley round to patients and changed their water jugs. I always enjoyed chatting to the patients. I knew I wanted to study medicine and volunteering at ellenor gave me an opportunity to have direct patient contact. It was really nice to see how the organisation worked.”
Before long Dr Thurgood was off to medical school at King’s College in London where she was lucky enough to spend some time in a leading palliative care centre, The Cicely Saunders Institute. The centre brings together academics, healthcare professionals, community organisations, patients and carers in one centre and acts as the hub for a network of international research.
“That provided me with more inspiration,” said Dr Thurgood. “I had always thought that palliative medicine was what I wanted to do. You have a chance to really get to know a patient, and in quite a short period of time. You build relationships quite quickly and that includes their whole family – that’s such an important part of palliative medicine. I enjoy having the time to do this and I love the fact that our automatic standpoint at ellenor is – let’s see what we can do!
“Conversely, my work at ellenor has also helped me as a GP and my colleagues will come to me for advice in palliative medicine now. That interface has been really positive, and I have more confidence to speak to patients who have palliative care needs about advance care planning. It can be difficult to recognise when you’ve known them over a long period as their GP. For instance, does the patient want to continue a certain type of treatment. Do they want to make plans for the future? Are we doing the right thing by them?
“When I start the conversation, I am often amazed how keen people are to have that discussion, although of course that’s not always the case for everyone. Mostly people
are very happy to discuss options. For many, especially frail patients with multiple illnesses, it’s all about quality of life. And for us it’s about being able to offer them the opportunity to discuss their wishes.”