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Patient care remains top priority as Hospice Waikato prepares for End of Life Choice Act coming into force

The Waikato region’s leading provider of palliative care services has spent the past few months educating its team of 130 staff and more than 650 volunteers about what the implementation of the End of Life Choice Act means for the organisation and its patients as assisted dying becomes legal on 7 November.

Hospice Waikato CEO Craig Tamblyn says the Act coming into force does not change, whatsoever, the palliative care and family bereavement support services the organisation provides.

“As assisted dying becomes a service that eligible New Zealanders can access, Hospice Waikato’s palliative care support remains unchanged.

“If one of our patients chooses to access assisted dying services through an approved provider, they remain a Hospice Waikato patient up until the end of their life.  And their family and whānau will still be able to access bereavement support,” explains Mr Tamblyn.

Assisted dying intervention in New Zealand can only be carried out by providers approved by the New Zealand Ministry of Health.

Hospice Waikato has chosen not to become an approved provider of assisted dying services.  Interventions will not happen at its 11-bed in-patient unit in Hamilton, and Hospice Waikato staff will not participate in interventions or be present when they occur.  As Hospice Waikato is not an approved assisted dying service provider, it will also not assess patients’ eligibility for the service.

Tamblyn says the decision not to become an approved provider of assisted dying services aligns with the organisation’s purpose and philosophies.

“At Hospice Waikato, we made this decision as we believe assisted dying intervention does not align with the purpose and philosophies of palliative care.  Our purpose is to help patients live as full and as comfortable a life as possible in the time they have left; our philosophy of care revolves around the act of living, not dying.” 

Patients in Hospice Waikato’s in-patient unit in Hamilton who choose an assisted dying intervention will be required to select another preferred location, such as their home.

Mr Tamblyn acknowledges that implementation of the new legislation is unknown territory for the hospice provider.

“The legalisation of assisted dying services is highly relevant for our staff who are on the front-lines of palliative care delivery.  The emotive nature of end-of-life choice makes discussion of the subject with patients and family members a tricky issue to navigate.  Our team of nurses, doctors, volunteers and others certainly feel like we are all on a new journey together; and it’s a journey whose roadmap isn’t entirely clear. 

“We aren’t quite sure what to expect as implementation of the new legislation plays out. But one thing we are all certain about is continuing to put our patients’ needs first, always respecting their choices, and being there to support their whānau,” says Tamblyn.

In addition to providing access to Ministry of Health education materials, Hospice Waikato has spent time working with its staff and volunteers to educate them about how to discuss assisted dying with patients if asked, and how to connect patients with approved providers for more information.

“We know that some patients will ask our staff questions about assisted dying.  So, we’ve worked hard to ensure our staff feel comfortable having those conversations and feel confident connecting patients with approved providers when the patient wants to find out more details,” explains Tamblyn.

“Patients who choose to access assisted dying intervention will stay under our hospice care, ensuring they can still get hospice support.   This also means if the patient changes their mind at any point, Hospice Waikato is there to continue delivering palliative care,” explains Tamblyn.

For more information, Hospice Waikato has set up an information section on its website.

Craig Tamblyn; Hospice Waikato CEO