Health Minister opens first palliative care unit

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A ONE-OF-KIND £5.36m palliative care unit has been officially opened by Northern Ireland’s Health Minister.

The new Antrim Unit provides the only specialist palliative care beds available within the NHS in Northern Ireland.

Macmillan Cancer Support raised a massive £2.1m from people across Northern Ireland to help build the much-needed unit and gave another £800,000 to help cover staff costs.

It’s hoped the new unit will ensure people in the Northern Trust will get high quality end of life care, whether they have cancer or another kind of life limiting illness.

Speaking as he officially opened the specialist palliative care unit, Health Minister Edwin Poots said: “How we care for those at the end of their lives says a lot about us as a society and that is why excellent palliative care provision is a vital part of the health service.

“This new unit is an excellent example of the voluntary and statutory sectors working closely together. Indeed, Macmillan has provided funding to support the development and running of the unit. This important partnership offers a unique opportunity to improve services for people right across Northern Ireland.

“Palliative care services have undergone substantial change in the last twenty years, broadening the emphasis from terminal care to a full range of care and support services, from the time of diagnosis and throughout the course of a progressive illness.”

Mr Poots wished the Northern Trust and Macmillan every success with their new service, adding: “We must ensure that the right palliative and end of life care is provided at the right time, while ensuring individual choice and control. This new Unit is open to all those needing palliative care, not just cancer patients, and it a credit to those who had the vision and drive to create it.”

The unit, in the grounds of Antrim Area Hospital, is the result of a partnership between Macmillan, the Northern Health and Social Care Trust and the Department of Health and Social Services.

The new unit has 12-ensuite bedrooms for cancer patients and overnight accommodation for relatives.

As well as specialist medical care, patients and their families can also access emotional and financial support, complementary therapies and respite care.

The Unit will also have outpatient services for people who need day care but who don’t need to stay in the unit.

Macmillan’s General Manager for Northern Ireland, Heather Monteverde, said: “This new unit will help ensure people with terminal cancer will be as comfortable as possible during the time they have left.

“While the specialist medical care on offer is vital, one of the major strengths of the unit is that it allows families to stay with patients as much as they want which is really important at such a difficult time.

“I would like to say a big thank you to the local people and businesses who supported our appeal to raise the money needed to create such a vital service in Antrim.”

Una Cunning, Acting Director Primary Care for Older People’s Services from the Northern Trust said:

“We have developed a clear vision for Pallative Care Services in the Northern Trust. We know that people want to be cared for as long as possible in their own homes, and to spend their last days at home with family and friends. The Macmillan Unit is a vital component of that vision where people can be treated, stabilised and returned home. However, if they choose to die in hospital the unit will provide a reassuring and supportive environment.

“This is the first Specialist Palliative Care Inpatient Unit, built in partnership between the Northern Trust and the Voluntary sector, providing specialist palliative care beds for patients within the Northern Trust area. Our partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support has enabled us to fulfil a mutual vision for excellence in the provision of palliative care services.”