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Nurse preparation for end of life care is sadly lacking

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Caring for patients in their final days and hours is a huge responsibility as well as a privilege for nurses - but it’s a part of their job that a vast number of our readers feel unprepared for.

In our exclusive survey of more than 900 nurses, 69 per cent felt they did not have sufficient skills or time to talk to patients about dying.

It’s not that they don’t want to do this - almost all our respondents (94 per cent) felt it was very much part of the nurse’s role to care for patients with respect and dignity until their final moments.

What makes the more than one in four nurses who provide end of life care lack confidence in discussing death with patients is that they feel unprepared to do so, and unable to dedicate as much time to it as they would wish.

In our survey, 72 per cent of respondents said their anxiety around end of life care was due to a lack of training. Many others felt that a lack of time to handle the issues major obstacle.

When questioned, nurses told us over and over again that this was an essential part of their work but they lacked belief in their abilities to talk to patients or their relatives about the options and the issues.

Pre-registration training should ensure student nurses are exposed to end of life care situations to build their skills. “Just being there” for the patient and spouse, partner or family was important to nurses, but so too was handling the situation professionally so that patients didn’t feel like they were on a production line.

Trusts need to think about coaching staff in end of life care - while some nurses surveyed praised their employer for their training, others felt the backup offered was woefully inadequate.

And trusts should not just think about preparing nurses to take on this end of life work but also supporting them psychologically in the aftermath.

Handling these scenarios repeatedly takes a huge amount of emotional resources from nurses, and it is only right that their employers respect its impact on their wellbeing.

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • As a ward sister and bereavement counsellor I believe this is one of the important aspects of a nurses job. It can affect the way a family perceive and cope with loss for along time.
    The sister / senior nurse on a shift should help junior colleagues through this time and enable them to deal with future events and facilitating de-brief as required.
    The fact that nurses feel unsupported or unable to cope with this fundamental part of care leads me to question where are our senior nurses? Are we in the office or at meetings when we should be working on the floor supporting our staff??!!

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