European Certificate in Essential Palliative Care: 20 years on and going stronger

Approaching 20,000 clinicians globally have completed a version of the European Certificate in Essential Palliative Care. Professor Max Watson, Director of Project ECHO at Hospice UK, who originated the course and helped develop it with colleagues at the Princess Alice Hospice, explains its history and continuing impact.

Professor Max Watson

It is 20 years since the introduction of the European Certificate in Essential Palliative Care, a vital tool in providing clinicians with expert palliative care knowledge and supporting hundreds of thousands of people around the world get the care they need at the end of life.

Its journey began on a cold spring day in 1999 in Newry, Northern Ireland. Staff of Newry Hospice were startled by the arrival of an ambulance with blue lights flashing and a doctor inside accompanying a very ill patient, who needed urgent palliative care.

That patient had developed increasing pain at the neighbouring district hospital. Sadly, he died just 20 minutes after arriving.

This was the impetus that became the European Certificate in Essential Palliative care, a home-study, eight-week course aimed at teaching generalist clinicians key palliative knowledge and skills to ensure as many as possible, regardless of setting, are confident to provide essential end of life care to their patients, and families.

An initial course created for the hospital in Newry was augmented by the team at the Princess Alice Hospice in Esher (south-east England) when I went there for specialist palliative medicine training. In its 20-year existence and development, we’ve benefited from innumerable experts in palliative care contributing, sharing, and giving their time to support a unique programme promoting palliative care to staff engaged with patients approaching the end of life.

Gaining an international reach

The first external centre for the Princess Alice Certificate in Essential Palliative Care (as it was initially called) was the Northern Ireland Hospice. The programme evolved into the European Certificate in Essential Palliative Care when hospices from The Irish Republic, Malta and Jersey joined. Today, there are 13 certificated centres across the UK and Europe training nearly 400 clinicians every six months.

The generous vision, from Princess Alice Hospice, to share and support palliative care learning in countries with limited resources has allowed the programme to gain international reach with participation in Nepal, Albania, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and, most significantly, India through the Indian Association of Palliative Care. Despite language differences (the course had to be translated into Russian for some candidates), the passion for improving the care of patients is a universal priority.

The Certificate programme was adopted by colleagues from the Indian Association of Palliative Care (IAPC), through a Hospice UK workshop, in 2007. The Indian Certificate developed rapidly, and there are now 43 centres across the sub-continent involved in teaching the IAPC Certificate in Essentials of Palliative Care, to thousands of doctors and nurses.

The course handbook – a key element in the eight-week programme – is now in its 17th edition. Yet further testimony to the dedication of the Certificate team to consistently update, revise and implement new ways of learning and ensure that the prime goal of the programme remains to provide clear and practical support for busy clinicians around the world.  To date, approaching 20,000 clinicians have completed a version of the Certificate globally.

It has been a long journey from when that ambulance arrived outside Newry Hospice to where the programme is today, and we should celebrate its success as a fruitful collaboration that’s led to so many more people being cared for around the world.

Caroline Lucas, Andrew Hoy, Craig Gannon, Clair Sadler and Jane Berg, with support from Catherine Hazel – among many others – have been at the Esher heart of the Certificate’s 20 years of development and recognition for its quality, rigour and commitment to inclusive generalist learning and support.

Editor’s note: This post is among the Top Twenty most-viewed posts for 2021.


More about the author

Professor Max Watson is a palliative care consultant in the Western Trust in Northern Ireland and author. He is currently Director of Project ECHO at Hospice UK, a national charity working for those experiencing, dying, death and bereavement. Project ECHO (Extension of Community Healthcare Outcomes), is a tele-mentoring programme of learning, sharing & support that uses video-conferencing technology
Follow Max Watson on Twitter @DrMaxWatsonand Pr0ject Echo @ProjectECHO

#EAPC2022 – A world congress that offers new avenues for international collaborative research in palliative care. Make sure you are part of it – find out more and submit your abstract here:

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