Stephen Atkins is a senior social worker in our patient and family support team. He tells us about his role and the support he provides to Martlets’ patients, their carers, and their families.
“What I love about this job is that no day is the same. There are so many different elements to my role, as a social worker, and the support that I provide is really varied. At Martlets, I’m fortunate to have the time and resources to offer holistic care tailored to the individual. That’s so important as when someone has a terminal illness time is precious.
I liaise with our Hospice at Home and community nursing teams, and our inpatient unit staff. I also have close links with the local motor neurone disease (MND) group. My role is to advise and to set up the right social support for patients and their families. It might be practical advice such as signposting them to the welfare benefits they’re entitled to; or setting up a care package for help at home, or offering emotional support.
On one day I might be supporting a patient who has young children; I’ll talk with them before they tell their child about their diagnosis or prognosis. Then I’ll work with the children if necessary. On another day, I might be supporting and empowering the local community through the Compassionate Neighbours scheme. I’m the project lead on this and it is a fantastic service. We’ve been training local people to become Compassionate Neighbours. They can then offer companionship to people nearing end-of-life to reduce isolation and loneliness. It has become a phone service during the pandemic and makes such a difference to so many local people.
I started my role as a social worker at Martlets in April this year and got a warm welcome from everyone on the team. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer bunch of colleagues; everyone is so friendly, and they have given me all the tools I need to support our patients.
In my previous role I had less time to give to people which was frustrating. But here at Martlets I can support people and their families in a more holistic way. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to work here; it’s the kind of social work I dreamed of doing when I was training. I am allowed to spend more time with patients and that makes all the difference to care.
I can look at a patient’s social requirements, spiritual needs, care needs, and financial and legal issues at end-of-life; any unmet needs they have that will improve their quality of life. Supporting carers and families is also a big part of what I do. I can set up a ‘carer’s assessment’ which looks at every element of the caring role; then we decide on the best way to offer support.
In my previous role before Martlets, I could only provide short-term interventions. But now I get to build a relationship with someone for longer; maybe even a couple of years if they have just been diagnosed. Then it’s possible to really make a difference in someone’s life and to understand their needs more fully.
A social worker during the pandemic
It’s been difficult working during the Covid pandemic; I’ve had to do a lot more over the phone with people rather than visit them in their homes. Some people are hard of hearing, or don’t feel comfortable talking on the phone about personal issues. Since Government restrictions have lifted though I have been able to do more home visits.
When you’re in someone’s home you can see their pictures on the wall and see how they live. You get more of a sense of that person and who they are as an individual. You are a guest in their home which is a privilege, and the relationship feels more connected. It’s difficult though as I have to wear the correct PPE – scrubs, a mask and a visor. It can be difficult for people to hear me with all that on. I’ve learnt to raise my voice without sounding like I’m shouting!
Supporting patients with Motor Neurone Disease (MND)
I work with every patient in the city who has a diagnosis of motor neurone disease (MND). That involves working with the MND Association and the coordinators in Brighton and Hove. I ensure we’re then providing truly holistic care to those patients. The medical team at Martlets provides outstanding care for MND, and we can focus on the whole person approach.
The feedback I’ve had from MND patients is really positive; they appreciate being able to talk to me about non-clinical things that aren’t necessarily related to their illness. For example, how they’re feeling and any worries or concerns; or the practical support they want to put in place to care for their loved ones after they die.
One lady I supported who had MND could no longer communicate verbally as the disease had progressed quite a bit. She had complex care needs and had a team of carers who were supporting her around the clock. It took her a long time to respond using her computer keyboard. But I was able to book out a large chunk of time to be there for her. This meant she had plenty of time to think about her responses and type them to me.
She said she valued the time she spent with me as it was a break from focusing on her clinical care needs. With me, she talked about her life before MND. She also mentioned a few of the losses and regrets she experienced, and how she had found peace with things. Our time together gave her the space to talk about anything she wanted including other aspects of her world. She was able to share her feelings as she came to the end of her life.
‘This is my dream job’
The challenge for me in taking on my role at Martlets was adjusting to this more in-depth, emotionally challenging work. It is so rewarding though. People are coming towards the end of their lives so the conversations you have are so valuable. I feel inspired by those conversations — it’s such a privilege being able to listen and to offer support. This really is my dream job. I get to empower people to make decisions about how they spend the rest of their lives. And I want them to have the best end-of-life experience possible.”
Want to be a compassionate neighbour?
“Around 200,000 older people in the UK have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month. It’s a shocking statistic and we want to help people connect across the local community. Our Compassionate Neighbours are trained volunteers who offer friendship and emotional support to local people who may be at risk of becoming isolated. So please do get in touch if you’d like to find out more.”
Contact the Compassionate Neighbours team for more information: