End Of Life Champions


End Of Life Champions

“Would you want someone stressed, and flustered, and panicking looking after you when you’re dying?”

Sue’s question is rhetorical, but powerful – and illustrates exactly why it’s so important for anyone providing end-of-life care to be capable, competent, and confident.


To be this, though, a Carer/Nurse needs to have a strong skill set: and this is exactly what ellenor’ s End of Life Champions course aims to equip them with. Available to employees in care/nursing homes and homes for people with disabilities, the course – run by ellenor, a hospice charity caring for patients with life-limiting illnesses in Kent and Bexley – is open to registered and non-registered healthcare professionals.


So, what is an End of Life Champion?


“An End of Life Champion,” Sue explains, “doesn’t have to have a high level of education, or top marks – only a genuine passion for delivering high-quality end-of-life care.” Sue recounts the number of anecdotes she’s heard about care home staff leaving their posts after witnessing a ‘bad death’ – an emotionally and physically exhausting experience for any healthcare professional, registered or not.


It’s this type of damaging experience, Sue claims, that becoming an End of Life Champion can help to offset. By gaining proper knowledge around how to handle those situations where a patient may be deteriorating, these skills and strategies can be the difference between a situation in which a carer panics and dials 999; and one where they feel calm and confident to provide high-quality care.


“I’d like our End of Life Champions to walk away feeling much more empowered to deal with symptoms at end of life, and not panic; to not get scared, or have to leave their job. I’d like care homes to be able to retain their employees, too, and for families to feel confident that they’re leaving their loved ones in the right place; to trust staff completely.”


To this end, education in a hospice environment isn’t just good for the staff receiving that training (enhancing their career prospects, for example) – it’s good for the patients, and their families, too.


“Our training courses are constantly evolving, because in our field, nothing stays the same. If we kept doing things the same way, we wouldn’t be able to cope with any new challenges that come along. It’s why we’re constantly exploring lots of different things, and not sticking to a rigid regime; it’s also how educating our healthcare professionals leads to better outcomes for patients.”


As the theme of this year’s Dying Matters Awareness week demonstrates, how we talk about dying matters. Which is why communication skills are an integral part of everything an End of Life Champion does – and is. But communication doesn’t (or, at least, shouldn’t) start when a person begins to deteriorate, or arrives at the very end of their life. It starts much, much sooner.


“We teach our End of Life Champions not to wait until a patient is at the end of their life to have these discussions. By teaching good communication skills, and encouraging advanced care planning, we empower our End-of-Life Champions to find out more about the patient – while they’re still able to.”


Of course, communication can be difficult: particularly when it’s between a patient and a carer from different backgrounds. That’s why ellenor’ s End of Life Champions course places a cross-cultural focus at the heart of its approach.

“We, and the healthcare professionals training with us, need to have a strong understanding of diversity,” Sue says. “We have to be aware of different cultures, and what their expectations are when one of their loved ones is dying. This includes their spiritual needs: whether they’re re-discovering their faith at end of life, or simply want to see their home, dog, or a possession that’s special to them again.”


We first identified this knowledge gap, and the need to address it, before developing the idea for the training. But although ellenor runs it, the End-of-Life Champions course wouldn’t be possible without the funding of the local Integrated Care Board (ICB), and without the strength of ellenor’ s network.


Regionally ellenor is recognised for its commitment to end of life care education. Through collaboration with local facilitators such as Heart of Kent Hospice, Pilgrims and the Kent Community Health NHS Foundation – is empowering other local hospices to implement this training.  Additionally, ellenor has developed remote learning modules in partnership with these facilitators, providing, healthcare professionals with the opportunity to undertake end of life training.


What’s more, ellenor – through a local facilitators’ collaborative that includes fellow hospices Heart of Kent and Pilgrims, as well as the Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust – is empowering other local hospices to roll this training out. The hospice collaboration has also developed remote modules to enable self-paced end-of-life care training courses for healthcare professionals. 

So ahead of Dying Matters Awareness Week, and its emphasis on communication at end of life, why does how we talk matter?


“It matters more than anything else,” says Sue. “Because the patient, regardless of their condition or their abilities, is still a person; somebody who’s walked this planet alongside us. They might not have the insight to ask questions, but we can learn strategies to find out more about them – about their needs and wants; the things they love. We must ask: what’s important to them? Families often step in and tell you this, but by communicating with the patient, you’re hearing it directly from them. You can understand their thoughts, feelings.

Desires, fears, only then can we really use this one-time opportunity well to “get it right”


“Everyone has the potential to have a good conversation and learn what a patient’s needs are. You just have to be willing to say the first word.”


Want to get involved in Dying Matters Awareness Week this year? Explore what’s on to find an event near you, or download your free pack of Dying Matters Awareness Week resources. Alternatively, learn more about Training and Education at ellenor, or book your free course today.