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How an Ipswich doctor is improving end-of-life care

For palliative care professional Dr Ross Cruikshank the topic of dying is a daily focus and one that he has learned should not be feared.

That is the message the West Moreton Health Department of Medical Oncology and Palliative Care clinical leader wants you to know.

“If you’re faced with a terminal illness some people may think that the end is going to be a terrible thing,” Dr Cruikshank said.

“But it is our job to do the best we can to ensure that is not the case.

“We work to make sure our patients have a dignified and comfortable journey at the end without us actively intervening.”

When a patient is approaching the end of their life Dr Cruikshank talks to them about their preferences and goals to enable them and their families to participate in their own care planning.

“In palliative care, the emphasis is on both quality and quantity of life,” Dr Cruikshank said.

“We want to affirm life up until the point that the patient dies by giving them the best support enabling them to do it on their own terms allowing them to have the best possible life up until their death.

“When faced with a terminal illness there can be a feeling of hopelessness, but we are there to take that journey too and support them along with way.

“If they come to us with a problem that we can fix, we will do that, regardless of their terminal condition.”

The Ipswich Hospital has a palliative care ward with 13 beds along with Ipswich Hospice which is a community run, seven bed home-like service.

“We are very well serviced here in Ipswich,” Dr Cruikshank said.

Palliative care – what is it?

Palliative care is healthcare that focuses on improving the quality of life and quality of care for people with a life-limiting illness, as well as families.

It includes:

  • the prevention and relief of suffering
  • communication about goals of care
  • the early identification, assessment and treatment of physical, psychological, emotional, social and spiritual symptoms.

Palliative care does not aim to slow down or speed up the dying process. Rather, it helps people live as actively as possible until death by enhancing their quality of life.

You do not need to stop other treatment while receiving palliative care, but you can choose to if you wish.

“We run a very holistic service right from caring for patients in hospital and also in the community either at Ipswich Hospice or at home.

“West Moreton is quite a large district so I do telehealth sessions each week out to Boonah, Gatton, Laidly and Esk which allows those patients to stay close to their home and families.

“We also have doctors and nurses visiting patients in their homes.

“The emphasis is to keep people at home as that coincides with their wishes to take the rest of their journey at home to a certain point or even die at home.”

Dr Cruikshank wants to raise awareness in the community that dying is not a dark and mysterious thing or something people should be scared about.

To that end Dr Cruikshank is also helping to educate other clinical teams by conducting talks with other health professionals.

Queensland Health recently awarded Dr Cruikshank a Health Hero for taking part in an end-of-life project that enabled him to share his specialist expertise with the Queensland Ambulance Service.

“I helped to educate Queensland Ambulance officers about how they might approach a patient who is a palliative care patient if they are attending them,” he said.

Dr Cruikshank has worked hard to bring palliative care and oncology together to create a complimentary service.

“There is evidence to show that early intervention and early introduction actually prolongs survival,” he said.

Ipswich First

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