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Meet the carers bringing comfort to people in their final days

Scottish Care's chief executive says more than £1bn needs to be injected into the system.

We could not have asked for a more beautiful day to meet George Sherry.

The winter sun is bouncing off the hills and fields around Stirling as we head towards his house in the village of Alva.

Waiting for us on the sofa beside his wife Maggie, he's friendly, welcoming and remarkably upbeat.

In the corner of the living room a machine pumps oxygen constantly to breathing apparatus around his mouth and nose.

"I feel my condition is definitely worsening," he says. "But I know there's a lot of people a lot worse off than I am."

At 79, George is suffering respiratory failure as a result of a long-term lung condition. He's one of tens of thousands of Scots who require care.

Initially his wife Maggie was playing a double role, both wife and carer. But home visits from their palliative care nurse Anne Wheeler have changed all that. It's allowed Maggie to get back to the role she loves.

"She came in, discussed it with us and it was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders," Maggie tells us.

"When she turned round and said 'you, Florence Nightingale, can take your uniform off. I'm the nurse. You're the wife."

Anne has been described by her patients as a whirlwind and she helps them with a mix of clinical skill, hard-won experience and sheer force of personality.

She allowed STV News to join her for a day, visiting patients to provide information, advice and support - often helping them deal with serious and life-limiting conditions.

"It's done with empathy and skill you know we don't just rush in there and talk about death and dying," Anne says.

She does not avoid those words. She stresses the importance of people talking to their loved ones about their final wishes.

"They wish they had made the most of each day," she tells us.

"People have said that to me. 'I just wish I had made the most of each day and not worried myself so much about the small stuff'."

Anne generally has between 20 and 30 patients at any one time, spread across Stirlingshire.

Half of Scotland's population can expect to die on a hospital bed. About a third of all the patients on wards up and down the country are in the final year of their lives.

The biggest and busiest palliative care team in Scotland pound the corridors of the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow each day.

They are focused on managing people's pain, restoring quality to their lives and perhaps helping them get better - even if it is just for a short period of time.

Each day new patients might be added to their books or existing ones might worsen.

One of them is 33 year-old Stacey Gorman. Stacey lives with cystic fibrosis.

Admitted a few days earlier she has suffered hallucinations and panic attacks during her stay, she is still wearing a respirator when she speaks to us and her partner Michael sits beside the hospital bed holding her hand.

Patients much older than Stacey react badly when they hear the words "palliative care", thinking the worst.

In reality, patients receiving it can often be discharged and a large part of the discipline involves restoring comfort and quality.

"It's not just end of life." Stacey tells us. "It's to make sure that you're not in pain."

Dr Alistair McKeown leads the team. The job can be a window into some very sad times in people's lives but also some fairly dramatic ones.

"We can think about people who we've had to fly back to Canada," he says.

"I can think about weddings, marriages that have been organised, I can think about rapid discharge home and supporting that."

Dr McKeown and his staff deal with urgent, acute cases, working at the more medically complex end of the care spectrum.

While their work is a direct response to specific illnesses, other professionals are dealing merely with the march of old age.

"People have said that to me. 'I just wish I had made the most of each day and not worried myself so much about the small stuff'."
Anne Wheeler

Scotland has around 33,000 care home residents, living in about 870 facilities up and down the country.

The system hit the headlines recently because 12 of them- run by Bield Housing - are due to close, meaning 167 residents could be left without a place to live.

When he appeared before MSPs this week, Bield's chief executive Brian Logan was honest about the factors involved.

He said: "We are losing significant amounts of money on our care home business and have done for a number of years, and have subsidised that from our reserves.

"So we needed to take action and we needed to take action quickly."

Four of the Bield homes are in advanced talks to be taken over, meaning some of the residents could be allowed to stay.

That does not mask the wider problems in the sector. Senior figures say four more private providers in Scotland are considering pulling the plug because of similar financial concerns.

While the overall number of residents is stable, their needs are growing more complex - dementia plays a much bigger role than it did in decades past - and the services are becoming more expensive to deliver, too.

Funding, set by the Scottish Government and provided through local authorities cannot keep pace.

Dr Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, said this week more than £1bn would need to be injected into the system over the next three years in order to stabilise things.

Money is not the only problem. Scotland's care homes are suffering a staffing crisis as well. More than 50% have vacancies, recruitment and retention is becoming more difficult.

In the context of an ageing population, care is going to become an increasingly hot topic.

Back in George Sherry's living room where we have filmed the TV interview for one of our special reports, we stay on to chat for a bit.

As the local minister for many years George is a well-known face in this community and describes himself as "philosophical" about his situation.

He told us he was pleased about STV's piece and it was important to talk about the issues involved.

He expressed it in the sober style of a Scottish male nearing his 80s but he was eager, if not a bit excited to see it on the TV. Sadly he did not get the chance.

George died peacefully the night before we broadcast it. The hard work done to bring comfort in his final years - in everyone's final years - provides, perhaps, a key benchmark for the kind of society we want to live in.

https://stv.tv/news/features/1404382-inside-scotland-s-busiest-palliative-care-team/ | default

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