‘There is so much more to be done.’ – Dame Cicely Saunders

“We are a part of the Methodist Church, and are true to our Methodist roots. Caring for the sick and terminally ill are in accordance with the teachings of Christ. While our volunteers are largely Methodists, we’re open to all others who have the same compassion for our care-receivers. I have personally felt the love of Christ through this ministry. Will you walk with us in this ministry?”

Mr Chan Wing Leong, Chairman, Agape Methodist Hospice

As Christians, death is merely a transition from the earthly to the heavenly realm. Yet, what about the lead-up to it – the pain, the suffering, and living with the debilitating effects of chronic illness? What options do we have, beyond medical treatment, to ensure that we can continue to “live well before dying?”

In Singapore, there are now eight organisations providing either Day, Home and/or In-Patient Hospice care in Singapore under the umbrella of the Singapore Hospice Council (www.singaporehospice. org.sg). Receiving such care does not necessarily mean that the patient is moving towards death. There have been cases where the patient’s condition stabilises, and they go on to live normal lives for some years.

Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the modern hospice movement, was the inspiration for hospice and palliative movements around the world.

She refused to accept the dreaded words: “There is nothing more to be done.” She founded St Christopher’s Hospice in 1967 in Great Britain, as the first hospice linking expert pain and symptom control, compassionate care, teaching and clinical research.

An Anglican, and one who wore her faith on her sleeve, she revolutionised the way a society cares for the ill, dying and bereaved. Her watchword at St Christopher’s was “there is so much more to be done”.

Mr Lee Poh Wah of Lien Foundation, a key advocate and supporter of palliative care in Singapore, put it in a nutshell: “Talking about death won’t kill you. Not talking about death won’t make it go away. Talking about death means talking about life.”

Agape Methodist Hospice (Homecare), a community outreach of the Methodist Welfare Services, is one of six home hospice care providers in Singapore – the others are HCA Hospice Care, Assisi Hospice, Metta Hospice Care, Singapore Cancer Society and Dover Park Hospice, which just started a small pilot home hospice programme.

So what do we mean when we refer to hospice or palliative care? Are they inter-changeable terms? Let’s look at this.

Hospice care is a comprehensive set of services established to provide for the physical, psychosocial, spiritual and emotional needs of a terminally-ill patient.

Palliative care is patient and family-centred care that optimises the quality of life by anticipating, preventing and treating suffering. This is given to all patients with advanced life-limiting or debilitating illnesses like cancer, organ failure (liver, kidney, heart) or stroke, but may not necessarily be in the terminal stage yet.

So, all hospice care is palliative care, but not all palliative care is hospice care.

“Palliative care is the closest to the calling of medicine,” said Dr Benjamin Tan, Acting Head of Agape Methodist Hospice (HomeCare). “We can’t cure all, but we can always comfort. It is not a discipline of futility and abandonment, it is about placing the patient at the centre of whatever we do – be it medical, psychological or social interventions.”

A loved one who may have one year or less to live can benefit from home hospice care for maximum symptom management and holistic support.

Typically, home hospice care will include symptom control advice, caregiver support and psychosocial support. All services for home hospice care are free of charge.

“We may be one of the smallest home hospice care providers in Singapore, but our aspirations are big,” said Dr Tan. “Our team of four nurses and two doctors look after close to 100 active patients, and we have the capacity to take in many more patients requiring this service.

“Knowing that our team made a difference in the quality of life of a patient in his last days is what drives us. Simple gestures like hand-holding or giving the patient undivided attention can mean a lot.”

“Volunteers are pivotal to our service in different capacities – as befrienders and companions, or running errands for patients, providing a listening ear and even helping with the house-keeping, for those patients living on their own. New volunteers will always be accompanied by senior volunteers for the first few home visits.”


Ms Edlin Hu, Medical Social Worker,
Agape Methodist Hospice

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With grateful thanks to the Singapore Hospice Council for granting us permission to use extracts from past issues of their quarterly magazine, Hospice Link, for the above article.

Christina Stanley is Editor of the Methodist Message and wrote this article with valuable input from the Singapore Hospice Council, and Agape Methodist Hospice.