Unsung Heroes: Palliative Care Social Workers - not all heroes wear capes

The hospice has a team of specialist palliative care social workers who work alongside patients and their family members in the community, offering specialist compassionate care and support. We spoke to Jude, who joined the team in 2022 to find out more about the vital service that the team provides.

What is a palliative care social worker?

Jude explains that people often confuse the role of a palliative care social worker with that of a local authority social worker and points out that there’s a difference between the two. “As a hospice social worker, we work alongside patients and their family members and will go through the whole pre-bereavement and bereavement journey with them, offering a lot of support whether it’s around spirituality and religion, or things like advice on what they eat. We will even put them in touch with people in similar positions in the community”, he explains. “We’re a listening ear and a big difference between us and local authority social workers is that we are lucky enough to have the time to build relationships with patients and their families.”

How can a palliative care social worker help?

“We’re called on to help people in so many ways so when people ask ‘what do you do on a day-to-day?’, it’s a hard question to answer because every person’s needs are different.

"We take the time to sit down with patients to find out what they really need support with. Often, the real need isn’t what they thought it was. You go in to talk about one thing and identify other help that's needed, or sometimes they just need someone to speak to.”

Receiving a diagnosis can be devastating news, for a patient and their loved ones so it’s easy to see how a palliative care social worker can become a lifeline that people depend on. From patients who were working before they became ill - who may be new to the benefits system for example - and need help navigating it to ensure they receive the right level of support; to helping a family member who is finding it hard to accept that their loved one has a terminal illness, our team will offer compassionate and professional advice and support.

Jude talked about recent examples of how he’s helped, and shared a recent story of supporting someone who was homeless with filling in paperwork to allow them to get the necessary identification; writing letters on their behalf and helping them to find a place to live.

He also talked about helping a family member who lived abroad to join a loved one before they died. This involved assisting the family with embassy letters to explain the situation, to get permission granted for them to come to the UK.

“We don’t just signpost people and leave them to it,” Jude explains. “People expect us to be their carpenters, to sort out their pension, to liaise with solicitors, to speak to employers on their behalf, to be their link between them and medical professionals, and we do it.

"We’re the synergy that pulls all the resources together to work in sync with each other, while the patient and their family remain the focus.

“When you receive a terminal diagnosis your world is turned upside down and you don’t know where to turn or how to get things straight and the social worker comes along to listen and to help you through.”

What do you love about your job?

“Social work is a vocation, it is fulfilling seeing people having things put in place and knowing that you can be there to help them to get through a really difficult period in their lives.”

 

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