“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships” - Stephen Covey
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of trust. Whether it’s in the world of business, the sphere of public life, or within the four walls of our own homes, trusting relationships are the foundations of life itself. If we don’t trust our clients, our governments, or our partners, things simply don’t work.
But if there’s one sector in which trust is particularly crucial to a functioning system, it’s in palliative care. This branch of medicine is aimed at helping patients with life-limiting or life-threatening illnesses get the most out of life. That could be cancer; it could be a chronic condition such as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Motor Neurone Disease, or COPD.
Whichever element of a patient’s
livelihood is concerned, palliative care – that is practised by hospices, such as ellenor – aims to focus on the quality, rather than the quantity, of their life.
Let’s start with perhaps the most obvious reason – the very baseline of trust required for the patient-doctor relationship to work. After all, if a patient doesn’t have an inherent level of belief not only in their doctors and nurses, but in the wider institution of medicine itself, they won’t agree to receive – let alone seek – professional clinical care.
“I’ve worked in palliative care medicine for over 26 years”, Professor Matt Makin, Medical Director at North Manchester Greater Hospital, says. “And I’ve learnt a lot about how the establishment of trusting relationships can be just as important a part of relieving a patient’s suffering as all the medication and interventions we prescribe.
“ellenor cares for some very complicated patients, with very difficult symptoms; it looks after people experiencing great psychological, emotional, and spiritual distress. But because of the trusting relationship that the staff develop with patients – and vice versa – they’re more likely to feel safe, well-cared-for, and secure. As a consequence, this element of trust can have a massively positive impact on their experience of suffering”.
But how is trust built at an organisation like ellenor?
For some, such as May Shurmer, Senior Staff Nurse, it’s through transparency – by engaging in open communication with patients and families, even if that means confronting difficult truths. Cultivating trust involves refusing to shy away from the uncomfortable; it means embracing the conversations that, though hard, bring understanding and closure.
“We always say to families ‘if you ask us a question, we will tell you the truth”, May says. “It’s not our right to take away from those families that time that they have left. We’re never ‘ready’ for death but having those honest conversations can help patients and their loved ones prepare for it and allow it to be peaceful”.