The Welsh Ambulance Service has appointed its first dedicated palliative care paramedics. The new recruits will deliver specialist care to patients who are nearing the end of their life, in what is also a UK ambulance service first.
The four-strong team will work as part of Swansea Bay University Health Board’s Specialist Palliative Care Team and divide their time between patients in the community and patients in a hospital and hospice setting.
The new paramedics will take up post in November.
Ed O’Brian, End of Life Care Lead at the Welsh Ambulance Service, said, “People associate the role of a paramedic with managing trauma patients or patients who’ve had a heart attack or stroke.
“Not many 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 will be divided between patients in the community and those in an inpatient setting.
“In the community, they’ll respond to palliative emergencies – essentially, they’re the bridge between the home and hospital for patients in the last days of life. They’ll also work in a hospital or hospice setting providing support to Swansea Bay patients, working alongside the nursing team under the direction of a consultant in palliative medicine.
“We’re thrilled to be collaborating with our health board colleagues on this initiative, which we hope will improve the quality of care for terminally ill patients and open up new and innovative ways of meeting their needs.
“The bonus is that our new recruits will receive specialist training and mentorship from our hospital colleagues, which they can then apply to their ambulance service role.”
Dr Gwenllian Davies, Palliative Care Consultant and Clinical Lead at Swansea Bay University Health Board, added, “We’re delighted to welcome paramedic colleagues to our Specialist Palliative Care Team. Their membership of the multi-disciplinary team will enhance the care we can provide for our patients. We look forward to learning from each other and hope that this will be the first of many similar collaborations for palliative teams.”
This is the latest in a series of initiatives the Welsh Ambulance Service has introduced to improve the care that palliative patients receive.
In February, the trust joined forces with Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales to improve the training delivered to ambulance crews so they can better recognise when a patient is nearing the end of their life and better manage their symptoms to prevent avoidable hospital admissions.
The trust was also the first ambulance service in the UK to introduce ‘Just in Case’ medications on its emergency vehicles, allowing paramedics to better manage the symptoms that may be experienced as terminally ill patients become more poorly.
The trust’s End of Life Care Rapid Transport Service also works with teams across Wales to provide transport for terminally ill patients to their preferred place of death.
The service has made over 2100 compassionate journeys since its introduction in 2017.
Dr Nikki Pease is a Macmillan Palliative Medicine Consultant at Velindre University NHS Trust and a member of the ambulance service’s End of Life Care Project Board.
She said, “The appointment of four palliative care paramedics in Swansea Bay builds on the solid foundation established by ongoing collaboration between the Welsh Ambulance Service and palliative care organisations across Wales. Outcomes from this local innovative change will be shared with colleagues and teams across Wales to ensure national learning to improve end-of-life care across Wales.”