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The role of social workers in palliative, end of life and bereavement care (2016)

This resource aims to ensure that people benefit from good social work at the end of their life, and that those close to them are supported during this time and into bereavement. We want this resource to be used by all to understand what social work can offer, to secure good social work, and to support social workers as a crucial element of good end of life care.

New Resource to help people benefit from social work at the end of their life

‘I think the most important support is time, the giving of time, people finding time for you, and the freedom to ask questions. Having someone independent to go to just to talk through and to say ‘I’m upset, I’m confused’ and just to gain reassurance, because it’s an awful thing to do, to have to take your loved one and leave them behind – a dreadful thing…’ (Bereaved husband in his sixties)

This resource aims to ensure that people benefit from good social work at the end of their life, and that those close to them are supported during this time and into bereavement.

Palliative, end of life and bereavement care matters to everyone. Around half a million people die each year in the UK. All of us need to be supported to consider what will matter to us when we are at the end of our lives, to plan ahead and to live well until we die.

Social work has an important role in the delivery of meaningful palliative, end of life and bereavement care. Some social workers are palliative care social workers, working in services which specialise in this area of support. All social workers will encounter people who are experiencing the end of life or bereavement.

The resource sets out what palliative care social work is, the role and expertise of palliative care social workers and what palliative care social work can offer. It aims to help people who need palliative, end of life and bereavement care to understand how social work can help them. The resource also helps all social workers to be ready to support people who are dying or bereaved

The resource finishes with actions that everyone can take to get more out of palliative care social work and social work at end of life and in bereavement.

All social workers can use this resource to consider their practice. They can promote this resource, take it to the highest level within their organisation and advocate for the importance of social work in palliative, end of life and bereavement care.

Ensuring that everyone has a good life until they die and a good death must be everybody’s business. Social workers have an important contribution to make. This resources sets out how other agencies, employers and commissioners can support them to provide this.

The resource was developed by the Association of Palliative Care Social Workers in collaboration with the former College of Social Work. We worked with Making Waves Lived Experience Network/Open Futures Research to ensure that the resource is informed by the voices of people with lived experience. It is published by the British Association of Social Workers, the independent voice of social work in the UK.

The resource is available at:

‘Social workers must fight for service user rights and the profession’s soul’ – Community Care

Spiritual care is a core tenet of palliative care social work, but in his recent article Peter Beresford challenges the profession to remember to look after its own soul.  He argues that alliances between practitioners, service users and carers offer the best challenge to damaging policies.

See article:

Wherever you go, there you are

Jon Kabat-Zinn said the following in “Wherever you go, There you are”:

“If what happens now does influence what happens next, then doesn’t it make sense to look around a bit from time to time so that you are more in touch with what is happening now, so that you can take your inner and outer bearings and perceive with clarity the path that you are actually on and the direction in which you are going?

If you do so, maybe you will be in a better position to chart a course for yourself that is truer to your inner being- a soul path, a path with heart, your path with a capital P. If not, the sheer momentum of your unconsciousness in this moment just colours the next moment. The days, months, years quickly go by  unnoticed, unused, unappreciated.

No one else can do this job of waking up for us, although our families and friends do sometimes try desperately to get through to us, to help us see more clearly or break out of our own blindness. But waking up is ultimately something that each one of us can do only for ourselves. When it comes down to it, wherever you go, there you are. It’s your life that is unfolding”.

I have used these words at our Multi-Disciplinary Meeting on Tuesdays at the Hospice and have found that when not only applied to myself and my own life but also encouraged patients to apply it to there’s that, there has been a change in their perception of things and themselves, and the situation which they face and, all of us will one day journey upon.

I have shared these words at the Hospice Multi-Disciplinary Meeting on Tuesdays and also with patients.  I have found that they encourage people, including myself, to reconsider how they perceive themselves and the situation which they face.

It is at these times that I have been encouraged to stay within the role as a social worker in Specialist Palliative Care as it encapsulates for me the very purpose in which I came into the profession in the first place.

To effect change and development in a person’s dilemma and reality through encouragement of their strengths and being is a very wonderful gift.

We all face very difficult and awful situations but the wonder of life is that these can be overcome.  Even when facing the final journey there are still obstacles and hurdles which need to be overcome and as a SW I feel very privileged to be asked to accompany a patient on such a journey.

James Neil
Social Worker
St Margaret of Scotland Hospice

Building Bridges – EAPC Conference 2015 Copenhagen – attended by Emily Madsen Rowcroft Hospice

Going away to foreign soil without a small child was in itself rather exciting…

However, attending the conference as a participant – having had an abstract accepted – was both exciting and nerve racking.

Submission of the abstract was borne from attending the APCSW conference in London. Having presented a piece about a project I was working on with the Alzheimer’s Society it was suggested that it could be worked into an abstract. (Cue panic and procrastination)

However, with great support – both academic and practical – from Rowcroft Hospice this was drawn up and submitted to the EAPC.

This was then accepted and my next greatest concern was how to get the physical poster onto Easyjet without incurring extra baggage costs!

The Alzheimer’s Society funded  Chris also involved with the project to attend, so it was fabulous to be able to represent the project fully.

3,000 delegates from all over the world converged in a huge conference centre (reminiscent of the NEC or Earls Court).

The programme was printed in the form of a bound book (hefty!) that ran to 190 pages.

It took me a full 3 hours to navigate and work out the difference between a Plenary, Parallel session and Free communication.

Within a single morning in a single room (cavernous spaces actually) a presentation of a piece of research was scheduled every 15 mins – 6 sessions in total spanning 90 mins.  There were parallel sessions running in several other rooms also.

Not renowned for my powers of concentration, this was at times cognitive overload.

Our poster was hung in a huge space and we were expected to be alongside this in all the breaks to talk to delegates if they had questions.

Well! We were really genuinely surprised at how much interest the project generated and to be told by a Professor of Palliative Care that we were ‘ahead of the game’ was extraordinary. (Clearly, we nodded and were quite understated until he had left the room …)

It was inspiring to see other social work colleagues also displaying their abstracts – Steve Marshall and Elmien Brink (Kings College Hospital) and flying the flag for specialist palliative care social work.


Attending and supporting Pam Firth’s Meet the Expert session re: EAPC social work competencies. This was well attended and was a diverse group in terms of nationalities. All present were involved in an aspect of social work.

Seeing Harvey Chochinov present ‘Addressing distress in the cancer setting’

Visiting Copenhagen, meeting colleagues not seen for many years and eating and drinking.

Key lightbulb moment in terms of Social Work practice/assessment

‘Depression and Demoralisation: Common Points and Differences.’ Luigi Grassi Italy.

Food for thought in terms of specific support. I had never heard of demoralisation as a diagnostic term. (I have the slides if any others are interested).


Having attended over 24 research sessions presented by researchers and clinicians, it dawned that ‘they’ are no different to ‘us’.

I should have ticked the box that offered an oral presentation of the abstract.

We could have done it and should have done it.

Next time…

Social work cries out for a hero leader

With the two chief social workers saying they don’t pretend to be the voice of the profession, there is confusion as to who, exactly, is speaking for social workers

Who speaks for social work? The question has preoccupied the profession for years and many thought it answered, at least in part, when ministers appointed not one but two chief social workers for England three years ago. But apparently not.

See article:

Behind the wire: meet the social workers supporting military families on an RAF base

RAF Cosford, a base nestled in the green 10 miles out of Wolverhampton, is everything you expect a millitary barracks to be. The compound is flanked with barbed wire and CCTV, uniformed oficers march in smart lines and khaki-toned aircraft zoom past overhead. Just outside the wire, a small social services office serves as a link to the outside world.

See article:

Thank you for Blackstar’: Palliative care doctor writes open letter to David Bowie

A week has passed since David Bowie’s death, and his son Duncan Jones, who was among the first to confirm the news last Monday, has reutrned to Twitter.

Jones shared a link to an open letter written in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) by a palliative care doctor, which shed light on the musician’s preparation for death and thanked him for his contribution to music. It has been reported, although not offically confirmed, that Bowis’s “courageous 18-month battle” was with liver cancer.

See article: