Medical Award Recognises Care

The prestigious Steve Hugh Award for outstanding clinical excellence was awarded at the Annual General Meeting of ‘Shropdoc’ – Shropshire’s doctor-led out of hours service – last night.

The award was given to Dr Wendy-Jane Walton of Shrewsbury for her work in palliative care in Telford & Wrekin and Shropshire. Dr Walton, a GP at Marden Medical Practice in Shrewsbury is based two days per week at the new £5m Severn Hospice in Telford to encourage and support Best Practice among GPs across Shropshire and Telford looking after those in the final stages of life, using tools such as the Gold Standards Framework.

The role is part funded by Shropshire’s two PCTs and part funded by Macmillan Cancer Support and embraces the whole range of medical services from primary care to out of hours cover.

Palliative Care aims to provide dignity and care for both patients and their families and to help patients with incurable illnesses overcome the barriers to dying in the place of their choice – usually their own home.

Dr Walton said:

“I am delighted and honoured to receive this award as Steve Hugh was a close friend and colleague who encouraged me to take forward my vision for palliative care in Shropshire. I have always had a driving passion to improve the quality of care we provide to patients at the end of life. We only have one chance to get it right and it’s really important that patients can be enabled to die with comfort and dignity ideally in the place of their choice which for many people will be their own home.”

Palliative care is the active total care of patients at a time when their disease is no longer responsive to curative treatment and when life expectancy is relatively limited. Effective palliative care involves a multi-professional approach to healthcare and provides relief for patients from pain and other distressing symptoms. The care package integrates psychological and spiritual care for patients, so that they can come to terms with their own death as fully and constructively as possible and offers a support system to help patients live as actively and creatively as possible until death.

Dr Walton was nominated by her colleagues for the Steve Hugh Award for Clinical Excellence in Primary Care, in recognition of her efforts in the area of Palliative care over many years.

Russell Muirhead, Chair of Shropdoc, said:

"This Award was instituted to highlight examples of high quality care within our community. Dr Walton was chosen for her excellent work in this field and her longstanding commitment to Palliative Care and also to reflect that she is very much part of a larger team of people, in many different disciplines, who strive to provide the very best care to patients during what can be a very difficult and demanding time for both them and their families and friends. Whenever this Award is decided we are reminded of the high ideals which Dr Steve Hugh brought to Shropdoc and Dr Walton is a very worthy recipient. We wish her continued success.”

Dr Walton first became involved in palliative care in 2000 when she was Complaints Manager for Shropdoc.

Dr Walton explains:

“I noticed that a disproportionate number of complaints related to end of life care and the lack of coordination during out of hours – which makes up more than two thirds of the week – leading to a high number of unnecessary and distressing hospital admissions. In 2002 I was awarded a donation from the Roy Fletcher Trust to develop ‘Palliative Care Bags’ including such things as syringe drivers and I am pleased to say that Shropdoc carried on the funding beyond the life of the grant and have maintained it since. In consultation with the Department of Health, I went on to develop a ‘Just in Case’ box which is in use today. The box is prescribed by GPs and is kept in the patient’s home. The prescribing GP then notifies Shropdoc of this which means that any call to Shropdoc out of hours will also bring up a flag which tells the attending doctor about the situation. It means better and more dignified care for patients, less worry for loved ones and fewer distressing – and inappropriate – hospital admissions. I would like to thank everyone involved in this scheme for their work but I am most grateful to Steve for giving me the drive to see it through.”

The palliative care in Shropshire is designed to ensure close cooperation between a patient’s GP and Shropdoc. Other areas – notably in South Wales – are now looking to adopt the systems Dr Walton has developed.

Dr Steve Hugh was Medical Director at Shropdoc before his untimely death in November 2005. His influence pervaded the organisation at every level and played a major part in creating the high quality of service provided to the patients of Shropshire and Mid-Wales.

After much discussion it was decided that an annual Award be created to recognise and celebrate other Primary Care professionals who practised the same principles as Dr Hugh did: high quality care, innovation, inclusiveness, team working, going the extra mile to ensure that whatever was done was right.

Shropdoc currently has over 330 local GPs as members, providing doctor-led out of hours services for three quarters of a million people across Mid-Wales, Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin and parts of South Staffordshire.

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