The UK’s first team of specialist paramedics who provide palliative and end of life care has been shortlisted for a national award.
The service sees palliative care paramedics from the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust (WAST) work with Swansea Bay’s specialist palliative care team (SPCT).
Staff split their time by spending 50 per cent working in their usual WAST roles where they respond to emergencies.
While the other 50 per cent is spent seeing patients referred to specialist palliative care, primarily in the community but also in hospital.
They work with the wider multidisciplinary team to provide an extra layer of support for patients who are in their last hours or days of life, or who need urgent symptom control.
The specialist paramedics are also there for relatives, working alongside them to help families support their loved one’s care.
After being introduced at the end of 2021, the team has now been shortlisted in the Provider Collaboration of the Year category at this year’s Health Service Journal (HSJ) Awards.
Dr Gwenllian Davies, consultant in palliative medicine and clinical lead, said: “A need to increase the flexibility and responsiveness of the SPCT, particularly in the community, was recognised. Especially with regards to facilitating urgent assessments and rapid symptom management.
“The traditional set up of a SPCT sees staff have a lot of their work planned, so responding quickly to an unplanned event or urgent referral was challenging.
“Bringing paramedics into the team created a new and unique role.
“Introducing a clinician experienced in responding to the unexpected and unplanned helped to provide an urgent response.”
The service was designed to make best use of the paramedics’ specialist skills, while enhancing the knowledge and skills of the SPCT.
Before the paramedics joined the team, urgent assessments had sometimes needed to be referred to other services.
An initial review showed that one month before the paramedics joined the team, 68 per cent of calls were dealt with primarily by the SPCT.
Six months after the service began that figure increased to 82 per cent, highlighting that the team was managing more of its patients than ever before.
This has helped to free up capacity within the other vital services such as district nursing, GP practices and the Emergency Department.
“Being able to share knowledge between staff from both organisations has helped improve care planning for patients,” Dr Davies added.
“It has also improved communication between services.
“The benefits have included more efficient use of the multidisciplinary team’s time, an increase in response times, better patient experience and more appropriate use of skills.
“This has all helped to reduce the demand on GPs, as well as on the Emergency Department.
“An evaluation was conducted which reported that the response time for paramedics to a call is around six hours maximum.
“Previously, it could have taken up to three days of staff time due to various delays.”
The joint initiative has also proved successful in developing a better understanding of each other’s skills and knowledge.
Dr Davies said: “The SPCT had limited knowledge of the paramedic role before the service was launched.
“This way of working allows each profession to have support and improved time to work to the maximum of their ability.
“It has also developed the way staff work and how they make referrals to other services.”
The team is hoping for even more success at the HSJ Awards held in November.
Dr Davies added: “I am so proud of this new service and the wider team in WAST and Swansea Bay that made it happen.
“We are delighted that the hard work of the team and the innovation of the services have been recognised at this level.
“I would like to thank everyone involved directly and around this service for all their efforts and support whatever the outcome of the award ceremony.”
Ed O’Brian, WAST’s end of life care lead, said: “People associate the role of a paramedic with managing trauma patients or patients who have had a heart attack or stroke.
“Few people realise that we also help patients approaching the end of their life due to an advanced illness, either with urgent symptom management or for a sudden deterioration.
“Every paramedic in Wales is trained to support these patients, but the palliative care paramedic role is unique in that their time is divided between patients in the community and those in an inpatient setting.
“We’re thrilled to have been shortlisted for this award, which in itself is recognition for the amazing team of palliative care paramedics and the fantastic work they are doing every day in supporting patients, their families and their loved ones.”