A legacy of psychosocial care

David Oliviere, Former Director of Education and Training, St Christopher’s Hospice, UK, and Pam Firth, Independent Consultant in Psychosocial Palliative Care, consider the legacy of Frances Sheldon, one of the founders of the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC). This post is part of a series of articles celebrating the 25th anniversary of the EAPC in the November issue of the European Journal of Palliative Care. 

Frances Sheldon

Frances Sheldon

How do you describe the building blocks, now invisible, that have been put together by an able and skilled colleague, a pioneer, a practitioner, teacher, researcher, writer among the earlier generation of founders of the EAPC and member of its first Board of Directors?

We knew Frances Sheldon as a colleague  – here we endeavour to identify her unique contribution to palliative care, her work specifically in psychosocial aspects of care and the foundations she constructed for us to continue to build.

Tall in stature, Frances stood out among her peers – a first class degree from Cambridge – she impressed with her calm and fine mind and judgement. She created a lot of ‘firsts’ in evolving palliative care. Her ability to relate as an equal in the embryonic EAPC, which was overwhelmingly medically dominated, was impressive – whether talking about clinical care, ethics or research.

There was much sadness in the EAPC and beyond when Frances Sheldon died on 26th February 2004 at the age of 64 years, ironically in the hospice she helped set up and worked in. Frances was born in Edgware, Middlesex, England; she attended St Albans High School for Girls; read history at Newnham College, Cambridge and took a postgraduate course in social administration at the London School of Economics. She started her social work career in the probation service, working also in childcare and in mental health settings. From these experiences, she gained an insight into the lives of people marginalised by society, struggling with poverty, discrimination and social exclusion. From 1977 she worked as a social worker in the Countess Mountbatten House (hospice) in Southampton, England and latterly as a Macmillan Lecturer in Psychosocial Palliative Care at the University of Southampton.  Throughout her academic career she maintained her skills as a dedicated case worker, working with families and patients nearing the end-of-life. Frances had a rich and varied career.

Working at Countess Mountbatten House, Frances “… found her metier: practising, researching and educating others in the belief that dying people were more than bodies with physical symptoms; that they were, indeed, individuals with families, friends and a complex interplay of emotional, social and spiritual needs.” (1)

All this at a time when psychosocial care was just being researched, taught and published (2) as well as the choreographing of skilled multi-professional working.

Frances made a major contribution in five aspects of her work, which has international significance for all professionals working in palliative care settings.

  • Families and carers
  • Psychosocial palliative care 
  • Multidisciplinary working
  • Management and organisation
  • The European Association of Palliative Care.

Frances contributed to international developments in palliative care and she was a good linguist and founder member of the European Association of Palliative Care. Her contribution to the EAPC was recognised in 2005, by the conference workshop dedicated to her work, at the 9th Congress of the European Association of Palliative Care in Aachen, Germany. She ensured that the ‘voice’ of social work, other disciplines and service users was heard in largely medical contexts. Frances taught in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

One highlight of Frances’ work with the EAPC was chairing the Scientific Committee of the London Congress held at the Barbican in 1995. An outstanding gathering, only Frances could invite delegates at the opening plenary to pair and introduce themselves to one another. This was followed by a highlight which was the ‘Ethics Case Study’: the entire gathering met three times in groups of 25 – 30 to work on a clinical case study – a wonderful opportunity to meet other professionals from disciplines and cultures across the globe. This logistically complex operation was managed with Frances’ characteristic unflappable calm.

In the opening paragraphs of her book, ‘Psychosocial Palliative Care’, (2) Frances writes what might apply to many of us in talking about palliative care:

“A field that I intended to stay in for just a couple of years has become a career because of what I learnt from (patients and carers) about the generosity and tenacity of human beings.”

This post is based on Sheila Payne’s and Peter Speck’s article, ‘Reflections on the contribution of Frances Sheldon’ in the International Journal of Palliative Nursing (3), with the journal’s kind permission.


  1. Monroe B. Frances Sheldon. Guardian Obituaries 28 April 2004
  2. Sheldon F. Psychosocial palliative care. Good practice in the care of the dying and bereaved. Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes 1997
  3. Payne S and Speck P. Reflections on the contribution of Frances Sheldon.  International Journal of Palliative Nursing 2004; 10 (4): 202-203.
Read the full article in the November/December issue of the European Journal of Palliative Care

Read the full article in the November/December issue of the European Journal of Palliative Care

To find out more…
The article to which this post relates, Frances Sheldon: British social worker, European palliative care leader, international psychosocial care expert’ by David Oliviere and Pam Firth, is published in the November 2013 issue of the European Journal of Palliative Care (vol. 20.6). Click here to download a free copy of the article. 

If you already have a web-based subscription to the European Journal of Palliative Care you will be able to download this issue, plus all articles in the journal archive. You can also browse the archive and download articles by taking a 10-minute or 30-minute subscription. Members of the EAPC receive discounted subscription rates to the journal – click here to subscribe online.  

Follow the EAPC blog throughout the rest of December and early January to read more special blog posts celebrating the 25th anniversary of the EAPC.

This entry was posted in EAPC-LINKED JOURNALS, European Journal of Palliative Care, INTERVIEWS & TRIBUTES, Social work and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A legacy of psychosocial care

  1. Pingback: A legacy of psychosocial care | EAPC Blog | All Things Palliative - Article Feed

  2. Frances Sheldon’s ‘calm wisdom and sensitivity’ along with her ‘characteristic unflappable calm’ are the heart and soul of the words she thought, the words she wrote, the words she said and lived, within which the Concreteness of her actions became the Freshness-of-bread on a Table, on the World Table for EveryChild-Woman-Man Who needed her Passion, Compassion and Perfection.
    Luisella Magnani

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