PATIENTS who need somewhere to turn when they have a serious or terminal illness are getting support quicker thanks to a shake-up in hospice care.

Fair Havens Hospice is trying to make it easier for patients and families by changing the way it cares for people in their own homes.

Three of the charity’s teams, the Macmillan Nurses, Hospice at Home and Day Care have joined together to form the Fair Havens Community Hospice Service, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Prior to the changes, it could have taken up to five days to make first contact with a newly referred patient but the team is now able to reach the majority of patients within the first 24 hours.

One couple benefiting is Clare and Karel Machacek, from Westcliff.

In July 2009 Clare, 71, was diagnosed with cancer of the bowel or colon.

She said: “We were told at that point it was curable with treatment but being told I had cancer just threw me completely.

“Over three and a half years I had treatment which included going to the hospital almost every day for three months for combined chemotherapy and radiotherapy.”

But last October Clare was given the news that there was nothing else to help.

Husband Karel, 64, said: “All of a sudden we were entering another unknown. We had become so used to our routine of hospital visits and treatment at home that we had almost become institutionalised. We asked ourselves, ‘what happens now?’”

The couple have been using the Fair Havens Macmillan Information and Advice Line on 01702 220350.

Clare said: “We always feel comfortable picking up the phone for every little thing we don’t understand. Every time I get a new pain, I think the worst; I think the cancer has spread.

“To be able to pick up the phone, explain how I’m feeling and be told what to do is very reassuring. We can talk to them about anything, in any eventuality and they’re always there. It’s our lifeline.”

Patients can also use a weekly respite break in Day Care, next to the hospice in Westcliff, and nurses can care for patients in their own home.

Debbie Sevant, a registered nurse with more than 30 years’ experience, added: “With a steady rise in illnesses such as cancer and as new treatments become available, people are living for longer with more complex symptoms.

“That will continue to put more demand on hospice services. With a shortfall of hospice care beds in the local area, we have to adapt to ensure we’re there for people when they need us.

“This is just one small step in the right direction.”