The hospice ambulance: Reducing isolation and improving quality of life

For housebound patients, the hospice ambulance service provides a vital link to the outside world – allowing them the dignity to carry out day to day activities most of us take for granted.

In addition to inpatient care, we look after housebound patients across eight London boroughs. The majority of this support is for vulnerable, elderly patients who may live alone or with a spouse who can no longer physically or emotionally provide care.

It can be a lonely experience managing serious illness and services in the community are often difficult to access. Our hospice ambulance team helps to address this need by providing patients with free transport, a support system and socialisation – providing essential emotional, medical and practical support to patients in their hour of need. They also serve as a medical pipeline, as we often find patients speak to our ambulance drivers about their wellbeing in more detail than they would to their own doctor.

Last year alone we provided 2,715 rides to approximately 300 patients. This includes admission and discharges to our inpatient unit, transport to our day services, and taking them to and from any external medical appointments. As most of our patients live alone and 40% of them use wheelchairs, mobility can be a great difficulty in a city with so many high rises.

Sue Hutton, Day Centre Manager at the hospice, says, “For our patients, the hospice ambulance often provides the only means to get out of their homes. It’s their lifeline and their anchor.”

Sadly, isolation and terminal illnesses are closely linked; recent studies suggest that loneliness increases mortality by 26%. Eddie, an 87-year-old patient who has been receiving treatment in our day centre for the last five years, is among those patients who would be unable to leave the house at all if it weren’t for the day centre and our ambulance service.

He would also be entirely unable to use the hospice if it weren’t for our unique ambulance service. We are one of the few ambulances that actually go into people’s homes – the ambulance is equipped with stair climbers, carry chairs, and stretchers to ensure that even the most complex patients’ needs can be met. And we often get referrals specifically because of this unique service.

One of the core principles of palliative medicine is holistic care. In our endeavour to make sure that all aspects of our patients’ needs are met we try to use our ambulance service in a variety of ways. As well as taking patients to the hospice we also drive them to medical appointments, to the bank, the opticians or the barbers and even in one patient’s case to their wedding!

Kevin Shotter, who has been an ambulance driver at St John’s Hospice for over eight years, says, “Since working here I’ve learnt that your passengers become so much more than patients when you see them twice a week; they become a part of your family and you want to help them as much as possible.”

In order to improve our ambulance service even further, the hospice is currently raising money to buy a new palliative-care ambulance. Find out how you can help here.

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