Tuesday 28th April 2015
Mac Voice, the magazine for Macmillan professionals: Spring 2015
Victoria Slater on supporting the spiritual well-being of people with cancer
Although spiritual care is recognised as being central to people’s care  it can often be misunderstood or neglected in practice. A diagnosis of cancer can affect every dimension of life, prompting people to ask deep questions about meaning and purpose.
This is the area that we refer to as ‘spiritual’ which concerns the human significance of life and death. Such questioning reflects the human need to integrate and make sense of life, in order to find meaning, purpose, hope and strength in the face of illness, suffering and death.
The Macmillan Pastoral Care team project was set up in spring 2014 to provide the ‘missing piece of the jigsaw’ in the provision of holistic care for people with cancer. The project is designed to support the spiritual well-being of people with cancer and those who care for them.
The team members listen to what really matters to people, paying close attention to the core of that person and to their key concerns so that they can offer appropriate support. This kind of support is important because how people make sense of what is happening to them, fundamentally affects their well-being and capacity to cope.
Who are the Pastoral Care team?
There are three part-time team members with different skills and experiences. My background is in hospital and hospice chaplaincy; Jilby Augustine and Christine Bateman have backgrounds in counselling and nursing respectively.
What does the Pastoral Care team do?
The team is based on an acute oncology ward and we also take referrals for palliative care patients across the hospital. We work as integrated members of the multidisciplinary team, ensuring, as far as possible, that all the domains of care are thought about in relation to a person’s care. Of course, working with illness, death and dying is stressful. Therefore, as well as supporting people with cancer and their carers, the team also provides pastoral care for staff. We are also developing an education and training role in spiritual care to help staff develop skills in this area.
Our contribution is valued by the multidisciplinary team. One doctor said: ‘The burden of disease is often alleviated by the support given by the Pastoral Care team.’ A nurse reflected that: ‘The knowledge that my patients are listened to about their worries and anxieties is comforting to me … I used to wonder what can be done [about spiritual concerns] and used to feel bad … now I can relax and do the work I need to do with the knowledge that the team will pick up [on these concerns].’
It is anticipated that the support for staff will contribute to a reduction in sickness and stress-related incidents, and that training in spiritual care will build confidence in this area in staff and enable appropriate referrals to be made when specialist pastoral care is required.
Feedback from people who use the service suggests this is already a valued service that makes a real difference to the care of people with cancer.
1. NICE guidance. Supportive and Palliative Care for Adults with Cancer. 2004.
Email Rev Dr Victoria Slater, Macmillan Pastoral Care, Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust