Professor with a mission to ease the pain for thousands

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The Independent Online
Professor Irene Higginson will today be named as Britain's first Professor of Palliative Care, which is now used by 100,000 people every year, although it was barely contemplated 30 years ago. Care of this sort - which focuses on the emotional and spiritual needs of the patient, as well as controlling pain - is most commonly used for cancer sufferers and those with HIV/Aids.

Professor Higginson, one of the world's leading specialists in palliative care, feels this area of medicine will become even more important as the population ages. More people will die from chronic or progressive diseases and will need care that enhances the quality of their life for some time.

The new department will be set up as part of a joint development between St Christopher's Hospice and King's College, London.

"We want to reflect a holistic approach," said Professor Higginson. "By linking with a major teaching hospital we will be able to develop work which will have a real influence on health care policy nationally and will enable our special skills in pain and symptom control to be applied to help people in desperate need."

Professor Higginson qualified in medicine at Nottingham University and has worked in general medicine, radiotherapy and oncology, but moved to work in palliative medicine, including working in a hospice herself.

She spent a year at the Department of Health, advising on health policy in the care of older people, and joins the new department from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

She said she was "amazed" to be appointed. "I really wanted the job. We have a saying in palliative care that people don't take in bad news. In my case I couldn't take in the good news. I carried the letter around for two weeks, just looking at it."

Professor Higginson says her decision to take on the post stems from a commitment to improve the quality of life for people suffering from cancer and other illnesses by raising the profile of palliative care.

"There is still a lot we don't know. I want to improve the care of people suffering progressive diseases of all different types, from all walks of life, and improve what happens to them through research and education. This is a new departure for palliative care and is a practical and important way of widening hospice care to help all those in need." Glenda Cooper