I am not normally a big fan of the awareness days and weeks that seem to exist for everything and anything. But for me, the following event is different, because the issue it highlights is so fundamental, not just to nurses but to all of us – namely end of life care.
Dying Matters Awareness Week runs from 18-24 May and is run by a broad coalition of organisations, including charities, care homes and hospices. A new survey timed to coincide with the event reveals that the public recognise that they need to talk more about death and planning their final wishes, but sometimes find this difficult.
In an interview with Nursing Times, Claire Henry, chief executive of the National Council for Palliative Care and herself a former nurse, has said that the survey contains “important messages” for healthcare professionals, who she says have a “huge role” to play in starting these conversations with patients.
However, I cannot imagine this is always easy. My mother recently slipped into a conversation that she had sorted out her funeral arrangements. To her, it seemed to be the practical thing to do. In contrast, I was left feeling uncomfortable and wanting to change the subject.
Health professionals may also have been left thinking twice about broaching the subject of dying with their patients by the intense media focus on end of life care in recent years. It certainly feels like the newspapers are especially waiting to pounce on problems in this area of care. The media furore that led to the demise of the Liverpool Care Pathway was followed last year by a series of negative stories focused on the use of DNR questionnaires by district nurses.
But enough is enough. Quite rightly, Ms Henry acknowledges that it is vital nurses have access to the right support and training to discuss end of life care options with patients and to deal with any resulting practical issues.
It is high time nurses stopped being bashed for the wider failings of the health and social system on end of life care. Instead, they must be given the tools to help their patients have a “good death” and, perhaps most importantly, the time to do so. There is only one chance to get it right.
Steve Ford, news editor
Follow me on Twitter @SteveJFord
- Jenni Middleton is on holiday