The Sage, Gateshead, UK, 14–16 March 2012
Dr Catherine Walshe, RCUK Research Fellow/Lecturer, The School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, The University of Manchester, UK
More than 600 delegates, 300 poster presentations, 40+ free paper presentations, workshops, plenary sessions and some Northumbrian sword dancers – yes, the 9th biennial Palliative Care Congress must be in town. Jointly organised by the Palliative Care Research Society and the Association of Palliative Medicine this is the main palliative care conference for those in the UK, but which also attracts many international delegates. This year’s congress used the spectacular setting of the Sage in Gateshead, a magnificent glass building overlooking the Tyne river and neighbouring Newcastle.
Many of the sessions addressed issues of how we improve the quality of palliative care we offer in a way which responds to the changing needs of patients and the complex multi-disciplinary ways in which palliative care is provided. For example, Professor Harvey Chochinov opened the congress by challenging us to work in partnership to achieve dignity in end of life care, and Professor Jane Seymour kicked off our second day by asking whether we needed a new model of palliative care fit to provide care to the frail elderly. The congress was closed by Professor Irene Higginson examining the landscape of research in palliative care: the challenges of limited funding for research in the UK and the need to address priorities such as interventions to address known needs, the cost-effectiveness of care, and the needs of an ageing population.
Outside of the plenary sessions we could construct a personalised programme from the multitude of parallel sessions, workshops and symposia on offer. Sessions included learning about new electronic systems for co-ordinating care, understanding how to get research into practice, new understandings in pain management, primary palliative care, paediatric palliative care and the standing room only sessions addressing palliative care in non-malignant disease and ethical issues. The full programme is available on the PCC website, and the abstracts for oral and poster presentations are published in BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care. A personal highlight for me was Dr Darin Jaturapatporn teaching us all how to make a session both fun and informative with her interactive quiz and prize for the person with best knowledge of the ESAS – which wasn’t me!
There was plenty of opportunity to network with colleagues to discuss the research and clinical innovations on display over either ‘A pie or a pint’ or ‘Cocktail and cupcake’ session on Thursday evening accompanied by a Northumbrian Piper. Overall an excellent congress which reflected the tremendous progress made in palliative care research and practice in the UK and beyond, but also encouraged us to meet the challenge of continual improvement in the context of changing demographic and economic demands.