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Healthcare staff 'fail to support dying patients'


Some 59% of Britons fear that dying people are not treated with enough dignity and respect by health and care professionals, with many worried that medical staff are failing to meet the last wishes of their patients.

A new survey by the Dying Matters Coalition reveals that many people feel unable to talk about death and end of life plans with their doctors.

The majority of GPs (88%) admitted that if people felt more comfortable discussing dying, it would be easier to meet their last wishes.

The figures, released to mark Dying Matters Awareness Week, show that 54% of people in the UK have suffered a bereavement in the last five years.

However, just a quarter of these people said they had received enough support.

Some 83% of those surveyed said they thought health professionals should prioritise end of life care for the elderly and people who are terminally ill as much as care for newborn babies.

But many believe that a lack of support could lead to them missing out on having their end of life wishes met.

For example, although 70% of people in England would prefer to die at home, more than half die in hospital. A third of people said they think about death weekly, while 11% said they thought about it every day.

Eve Richardson, chief executive of the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care said: “We want as many people as possible to discuss their end of life wishes and to take small actions such as registering to become an organ donor, writing a will or making an effort to speak to anyone they know who is nearing their end of their life or who has been bereaved.”

Professor Mayur Lakhani, GP and vhair of the Dying Matters Coalition, added: “Until we have a more open approach to discussing dying we risk continuing to see people die without their wishes being met. By raising the issue of end of life care earlier with people who have advancing disease, doctors can also play a key role in ensuring people get the type of end of life care and support they need and want.”


Readers' comments (6)

  • A very important issue. There is a Conference concerning this subject, Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimple St, london W1G 4AE 18th June, 2-5pm. Medics and nurses welcome.Application Forms:- Medical Ethics Alliance, Suite 240, 79 Friar St, Worcester WR1 2NT

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  • Whilst I totally agree that end of life for many people is not well managed, death is a taboo subject in this country. I am astounded that so many people think about death so often and yet do nothing to sort out their affairs before the end! I am a cancer nurse and previously in palliative care and it would be good if some thought was put into end of life before people actually get there. Wills, burial or cremation, sorting out kids. Also place of death can often change, especially nowadays as the symptom management can sometimes be too problematic to be cared for at home. Likewise, the care available is not great in all areas despite the Govenment pledging this. District Nurses have to bear the brunt of the care and often have to rely on non-specialist agency nurses. Families may not be in a position to care for the person who is dying. Overall, I totally agree with Peter Carter who at last seems to have spoken out with gusto about the cuts to nursing staff. Of course, we are now branded at liars by the Government but we are the people working in this awful environment currently in the NHS. The Tories and Lib Dems can I am sure all go to a private hospital for care and probably for end of life too!!

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  • Sorry meant to add in the comment above. It is not entirely the remit of the GP to discuss end of life. What about it being the responsibility of the person to sort their own affairs out in advance? Care issues, yes, GP or hospital to discuss but own affairs no. Life is tenuous to say the least. It is not just planned end of life that people should plan for. Sadly, accidents, fires, drowings, murders, heart attacks, strokes (and the sudden death list goes on) do happen to people every day. Why doesn't this Dying Matters Coalition get out there and de-taboo death instead of slating the already over worked health care system?

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  • much has to do with the general attitude of the British as a whole towards dying, which tends not to be discussed as seems almost taboo, and not just that of the hc professionals. People, and especially children seem to avoid exposure to the dying and their dead rather than accepting it openly as a part of life. It could be to do with traditional values in an originally predominately Protestant country and now a secular society. In predominantly Roman Catholic areas of Europe the attitudes are far more open and supportive in society which also influences and reflects in attitudes of care of hc professionals and the support provided by the church, religious organisations and other lay organisations which provide such support.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 15-May-2012 12:41 pm

    re your question.

    The Dying Matters Coalition is not there to criticise HCPs, it exists to try and resolve the problems which non-discussion of dying leads to (and its surveys are to measure whether people do ‘do the talking’) – as its website says:
    Dying people and their families can experience a tremendous sense of isolation and can feel shut out of social circles and distanced from their communities.

    A lack of conversation is perhaps the most important reason why peoples’ wishes go ignored or unfulfilled; if we do not know how to communicate what we want, and those around us do not know how to listen, it is almost impossible to express a clear choice.

    It has been said that what we fear most about dying is the associated loss of control. By empowering patients to express their wishes, that control can be restored.

    The Dying Matters Coalition believes that promoting openness and communication are the first steps to achieving this. We are committed to supporting changing knowledge, attitudes and behaviours around death and dying, and aim to encourage a greater willingness to engage on death and bereavement issues.

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  • DH Agent - as if ! | 17-May-2012 12:50 pm

    have you taken over the comments pages on the BMJ, Lancet and Pulse sites as well?

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