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Monday, 06 July 2015

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The doctor who saw need for pioneering hospice movement

The dream of a Cockermouth GP to improve end of life care has given West Cumbria its pioneering hospice at home service.

Brian Herd
Brian Herd

Brian Herd, 77, played an integral role in founding Hospice at Home West Cumbria, with the help of a team of nurses led by Margaret Dowling and a committed group of professionals and volunteers who gave their time and support to get the service off the ground.

The organisation celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and the drive and dedication of all those involved make it easy to see how it has come so far.

Dr Herd, who now lives in Lorton, was born in Liverpool but his family have lived in West Cumbria as farmers for centuries.

He was sent to Keswick as an evacuee during the war.

He returned to Cockermouth as a GP in 1965 and over the next 20 years, recognised the need for improved care for terminal patients in the area.

He took a six-month study break in 1986 to learn more about palliative care and how it can be applied to such a spread out area.

Dr Herd says: “As a GP I knew patients wanted to be in their own homes so the first thing was improving my own knowledge and visiting lots of different hospices.

“The aim was to make the last weeks of life not only as comfortable as possible but as enjoyable as possible for patients and carers.

“The dream was to get the same level of care as in the hospice buildings and get it either in their own home or in specialist hospice beds in a hospital.”

Dr Herd spent his study leave visiting hospices all over the country and speaking to specialists in palliative care to put together a paper for the British Journal of General Practice on terminal care in a semi-rural area.

He adds: “I came back from the study leave and I had a number of ideas of things we could do.

“We had to do something. There was a big need, as my paper showed, for improved care and as a GP I had many times been very frustrated by the problem.”

He attended a public meeting in January 1987 in Whitehaven Civic Hall, organised by Margaret Dowling and a team of nurses.

He says: “There was a lot of enthusiasm from people coming along who were fired up by it.

“From the beginning we wanted something that would cover the whole district served by the West Cumberland Hospital.

“It was quite clear that an in-patient hospice building wouldn’t be adequate.

“It made more sense to take the service to the patients and it was a pioneering thing then; there wasn’t anything on this scale going on anywhere else in the country. It touched a nerve with the public.”

Following its creation on that wet and windy night in January, the organisation cared for its first patient in the September of that year.

Dowager Lady Egremont was made president and Dr Herd was appointed chairman, a post which he held for 15 years.

In the 25 years since, there has been a steady increase from 56 to around 200 new patients a year, plus about 150 users of support services.

Dr Herd says: “I feel very proud of West Cumbria. It was providing what was badly needed and there are more than 100 small hospices around the country now.

“It was an act of faith setting it going because we didn’t know how far the money would go.”

While home nursing remains at its core, the organisation now provides support to families and carers through support groups and bereavement counselling, complimentary therapies, a lymphoedema service and day care services.

Dr Herd retired from the board of trustees in 2006 and was made vice-president in 2008, the post he still holds today.

He now shares his commitment to the organisation with his career as a professional actor.

It is a passion that he rekindled from his student days following his retirement from general practice in 1993.

Since then he has starred in television, film and stage productions including appearances on ITV soaps Emmerdale, Coronation Street and drama Cutting It.

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