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Last Updated: Friday, 18 May 2007, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
'I've always wanted to die at home'
By Tony Smith
BBC News

Douglas Meakin
Douglas Meakin 'could not cope with hospital'

Douglas Meakin is 74 and lives in Lincoln with his wife Vera.

The couple have been married for 48 years. Before retiring, Douglas owned and managed greengrocery and hardware shops in his native Nottingham.

Three years ago, Douglas was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Doctors said his tumour was too advanced for them to be able to operate or use chemotherapy and Douglas was admitted to hospital last November.

All the doctors could offer was help to alleviate his pain.

When the time comes, we want the patient to be free of pain, comfortable and where they want to be
Ian Benford
District nurse

They gave him just months to live.

Douglas hated his time in hospital, and decided that he wished to die at home with his family.

Thankfully, Lincoln offers one of the best home care packages in the country, with local district nurses working in partnership with Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Patient's choice

The charity's Delivering Choice Programme aims to provide help for people like Douglas wherever they choose to die - whether at home or in a hospice or nursing home.

Vera and Douglas Meakin
Vera has been getting extra help

Through the programme, a special nurse at Lincoln General Hospital assesses the needs of patients leaving the wards.

Douglas and Vera wanted to tell their story for BBC News' cancer week to highlight all the help they have been given.

"I've always wanted to die at home," Douglas says.

"I told them that at the hospital and they did their best to get me here. And the service we have had has been absolutely fabulous."

Two social carers come four times a day, changing bedding and ensuring that Douglas is comfortable.

Surrounded by loved ones

District nurses like Ian Benford monitor Douglas's treatment and pain relief, coming whenever needed, bringing in the local GP when necessary.

"When the time comes, we want the patient to be free of pain, comfortable and where they want to be, whether that's in a hospice or at home surrounded by their family and friends," says Ian.

"It's the same for all of us, isn't it? When we're poorly, whether it's a common cold or cancer, we really just want to be at home."

Vera is given additional help and support by St Barnabas Hospice at Home, which provides carers who look after Douglas when she has to go out.

And both Marie Curie Cancer Care and St Barnabas Hospice provide nurses who come to Douglas and Vera's home every other night, enabling Vera to get some sleep.

This is organised through the Lincolnshire Palliative Care Coordination Centre, one of the only such centres in the country

Patchy provision

This kind of care isn't available in many parts of the UK - and Marie Curie Cancer Care campaigns for more resources to be put into home care, enabling the terminally ill to die in comfort, surrounded by their loved ones.

It's fantastic to be making such a difference
Jackie Booth
Marie Curie

"We want to see many more patients like Douglas being cared for in their place of choice," said Jackie Booth, who heads up Marie Curie's Delivering Choice Programme in Lincolnshire.

"It will come as no surprise that the majority of people would choose to be cared for at home if they had a terminal illness, yet nearly half of all people are still dying in hospital.

"The programme aims to change this by doubling the number of people who die at home around the UK.

"As a result of the programme in Lincolnshire, hundreds of patients have been able to remain in the comfort and familiarity of their own home, or otherwise in a hospice or care home if that is where they want to be.

"It's fantastic to be making such a difference."

Vera and Douglas are convinced of the benefits of the care package they've been given.

"If it was taken away we'd struggle to cope now," says Douglas.

"They'd put me back in hospital and I would die sooner, I know. I'd give up."

At the moment, Douglas's condition is stable. He's comfortable at home, and still manages to laugh and joke with a stream of regular visitors.

He hopes that by speaking out, he might raise awareness of these issues and perhaps help other people in a similar position.

"I'm not afraid of dying," he says. "I've made all my plans. Now I would love to just go sleep one night and not wake up."

Anyone needing more information, or simply wishing to donate, should contact Marie Curie Cancer Care.

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