Dr Jane explained that ‘questioning the norm’ is fundamental to the care we provide to patients, but is also the premise of a good research question; “Ours was the first study to consider whether it was possible to approach people in acute hospitals who were very, very poorly to ask if we could potentially research their care as they died. At the time it was felt it would be too difficult or sensitive to approach patients who might die whilst they were in hospital, or their relatives. However, we were in the business of challenging cultures and with ethical approval and appropriate governance, we were able to carry out this study. Relatives said yes and a sizeable number of patients were able to say they would like to take part too.”

The research aimed to improve care of the dying by facilitating individualised care for patients and the very best symptom control for each patient. “As part of the study we developed some simple, yet comprehensive prompts for doctors and nurses to use on the ward, alongside prescribing guidance and a symptom observation chart. We didn’t know if it would work, but it did. The symptom observation chart improves care for patients by changing the focus of usual hospital care from measuring blood pressures and temperatures, to concentrating on key problems for the dying, pain, including nausea, breathlessness, distress, and making sure the patient is comfortable.”

Dr Jane says the award is an honour and recognises the importance of research; “It’s about acknowledging that we must continue to conduct research to ensure we are giving the best possible care to our patients. It’s about doing this work and disseminating it so others can learn from it. We’re bringing these research skills in to the hospice to explore novel areas of development within Cornwall Hospice Care, such as the use of outcome measures and the Joint Palliative Care and Oncology Clinics we’re involved in at Treliske Hospital. I’m flattered the dissertation is seen as an outstanding piece of work, but equally pleased that through this we are empowering other healthcare professionals to provide the best quality of care for all patients reaching the end of their lives. I think the award is superb news for Cornwall Hospice Care too, illustrating the role we play in developing end of life care.”