Pam Firth, Co-Chair EAPC Task Force on Palliative Care Social Work and Honorary Lecturer in Health Research, International Observatory on End of Life Care, Lancaster University, UK, reports on the first government accredited course in palliative care for social workers in Europe.
In September 2011, I was appointed as a short-term International Social Work Expert to join a multidisciplinary team developing a programme, which included education, to embed palliative care within the health and social care systems in Serbia. The project is funded by the European Union and managed by a consortium led by Oxford Policy Management Group, which includes BELHospice, the only hospice in Serbia.
I had spent part of the previous spring with palliative care social work colleagues at the hospices in Brasov and Bucharest, Romania, so I was delighted to be involved in this development, to use some of what I had learnt from them, and my own 22 years’ experience as a UK hospice social worker. I had also met Dr Natasa Milicevic, founder of BELhospice and a crucial person in the project.
Many Serbian people have limited access to health services, especially the poor and elderly, but social care has been reformed and decentralisation is taking place. My task was to develop a training programme in palliative care for generalist social workers. Social workers are employed in many settings and the work continues to flourish. Currently all social workers are educated to Masters Degree level. Government social workers, academics and field social workers were very positive about the project. Social workers were to be trained at level one and level two in a multidisciplinary group and a level two specialist course for social work was to follow.
The aims of the course are to give social workers knowledge, competencies and skills to work in a variety of work settings with people requiring palliative and end of life care and their families. The key expected result of the programme is that social workers will be enabled to provide improved person-centred and needs-based support and services to persons requiring palliative and end of life care.
The two-day training course was presented for accreditation to the Serbian Institute of Social Protection. It included teaching individual, family and group assessments and interventions, working with the bereaved, communication skills in complex situations and palliative care for marginalised groups such as those with a mental illness, an intellectual impairment and prisoners. In October 2012, the level two specialist social work course received accreditation – the first government accredited course in palliative care for social workers in Europe!
The first course
On 1st and 2nd November, 28 social workers came to Belgrade from all over Serbia to take part in the first training course. They were from many different settings such as hospitals, gerontology centres and centres of social work. Many had travelled long distances – one lady had had a 12-hour overnight coach journey. All were positive about the training. Despite language barriers, and with the help of Jasmina Haynes, local social work expert and a translator, the group generously and respectfully shared personal and professional experience and the course was evaluated highly. We were a group of professional social workers with common values, knowledge and skills that were determined to develop a palliative care approach in Serbia. I had been part of an amazing experience and look forward to the next course.
A quote from an experienced Serbian social worker: ” I got the photos and it’s a wonderful memory of your two-day seminar, which is a unique example of a unified theory and practice in palliative care.”
Many thanks to my Serbian colleagues in the Belgrade headquarters for all the organisation. I especially liked the UK and Serbian flags on the refreshments! And to Dr Natasa Milicevic who joined us for the last session.
Find out more…
Click here to read Zoran Purkovic’s post on how the team at BELhospice are introducing charity fundraising to Serbia.