Practitioner Support

Supporting people who use substances to get help for their health and social care needs

Many people who use substances do not go to their GP for fear of being judged. They may only go in a crisis, meaning that they will often not know how ill they are. Supporting them to get help early can vastly improve their health and well-being. For example, it can:

  • Help them to maximise their quality of life for the time they have left
  • Help them to have meaningful conversations with their families/friends and resolve strained relationships (if they wish)
  • Give them as much control as possible as they approach the end of their lives and provide a more dignified death
  • Support their family/friend caregivers to provide the best care they can and look after their own wellbeing
  • Make sure they are all getting the right support at the right time – not having to rely on emergency services.

Practitioners need support too

People using substances and who are seriously ill often have complex needs. Dealing with this is stressful – even for experienced practitioners.

You are not immune to the sadness and loss experienced when someone dies. Indeed, those feelings may be heightened by the emotions that accompany working with people who use substances. You need emotional support, training and regular supervision to keep providing good care.

The range of support you may need can include:

  • Networking opportunities to meet other health and social care practitioners working with your client group
  • A team approach to providing care (rather than working solo)
  • Regular supervision around loss and bereavement (perhaps from someone outside your organisation)
  • Managers who balance your emotional support needs with the administration requirements of your role
  • An emotionally supportive network of colleagues who mutually support each other
  • Attending a Death Cafe – an opportunity to discuss what a ‘good death’ means to you

Caring for people who use substances and are seriously unwell

As a practitioner you will need to talk to other health and social care practitioners involved in service users’ care. This may include:

  • Palliative care professionals who will help manage the person’s pain and other symptoms. They may also offer support with social, emotional and spiritual matters. They help people to plan ahead for the end of their lives (Advanced Care Planning) and support family caregivers too.
  • Substance use professionals who will help people to make choices about their use of substances as they approach the end of their lives. They can also advise colleagues in palliative care and health & social care. Substance use services may offer help with health & social care issues and family support too.
  • Social care and social work professionals will often be involved in assessing a person’s social care needs and putting a programme of care in place. They may also refer people to other services and act as a link between all services. They can work closely with family members, with permission.
  • Health professionals including GPs, and hospital or community-based health services may be involved at different stages of the person’s care.

      Practice pointers

      This resource comprises six ‘headline’ practice pointers on topic ranging from ‘Opening the conversation’ to ‘Pain and Symptom Management’.

      Practitioner pocket guide

      This guide helps you provide the best possible care and offers suggestions about the support you can access for yourself.

      Videos & podcasts

      These podcasts have been created by social and health care practitioners supporting people who use substances as they approach the end of their lives.

      Case studies

      Examples of social and health care practitioners providing support to people who use substances and are seriously unwell.

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