What is a 'good death'?

Blurred ambulance

Talking about end of life care can be tough.

The more proficient we get at extending life, the more difficult it seems to get to talk about death. Sometimes we can hardly bear to bring ourselves to say the word, preferring to frame our language of death with awkward euphemisms and the clichés of a greetings card.

It is hardly surprising that our discomfort with death has affected the way we look after the dying person. Whilst we have a proud tradition of palliative care in this country, with it being rated as the best in the world, we all know that good care for the dying is far from universal.

So how as an ambulance service can we help provide care for people for who there is no cure? It’s a difficult thought-process, particularly when it’s so engrained in us to save life at every opportunity.

Last July the Government said that every person nearing the end of their life should receive ‘attentive, high quality, compassionate care, so that their pain is eased, their spirits lifted and their wishes for their closing weeks, days and hours are respected.’

As part of that, it’s made six commitments to the public to end variation in end of life care across the health system by 2020. These are:

  • honest discussions between care professionals and dying people
  • dying people making informed choices about their care
  • personalised care plans for all
  • the discussion of personalised care plans with care professionals
  • the involvement of family and carers in dying people’s care
  • providing a main contact so dying people know who to contact at any time of day.

So we need to get comfortable in talking about ‘a good death’, and by that we mean one that’s peaceful, dignified, reflective and compassionate; around 470,000 people die each year in England and this is projected to rise by 20% over the next twenty years. At the same time, 40,000 children and young people in England now live with a life-shortening or life-threatening health condition.

A good death means making people as pain-free as possible. It’s about ensuring patients are involved in decisions about their care – and that they die in their preferred place. It’s about focusing on their individual needs and preferences, and those of their family.

This month we’re going to be looking at the role we play in that as an ambulance service, and hopefully providing you with helpful tools, articles, podcasts, and guidance to help put end of life care firmly on the radar and improve the care we give to these patients.

We’d really value your thoughts and feedback, so if you have questions or things you’d like us to pick up during the focus month, please feel free to comment below.

You can read the Department of Health’s Choice in end of life care: government response paper in full online.

Published April 7th, 2017


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