Chronically ill patients need better end of life preparation, says doctor

An expert in end of life care based at Southampton’s university hospitals is calling for better awareness of the need to prepare chronically ill patients for death.

Dr Carol Davis, lead consultant in palliative medicine at Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust, says end of life care should be “embedded” at home, in the community and in hospital.

“While there have been lots of improvements over the last ten years in end of life care, we can only be truly content when everybody who has a chronic illness has a plan in place that they know about and is under their control,” she said.

“That plan should say that the next time they are very ill, yes they want to be resuscitated or no they don’t, or if they have X condition, yes they want to go to hospital or no they don’t.”

Dr Davis, based at Southampton’s regional palliative care hospice Countess Mountbatten House, spoke out at the start of Dying Matters Awareness Week.

She believes discussions on the wishes of chronically ill people should begin between patients, families and relatives, along with their community nurse or GP, or in a hospital setting during the right situation – but “ignorance” remains an obstacle.

“There is still a remarkable degree of ignorance out there,” she explained. “Although it sounds trite, everyone will die, so we should all be working hard to ensure people are not denied the chance to have their wishes fulfilled.

“We want to embed among our staff when it is appropriate to talk about it – we want them to think ‘should I be talking about what the patient would want to do next time’.”

Dr Davis added: “It is so much easier to look after people, especially if they are ill and can’t talk to you, if you know what their wishes are and, at this time of cultural change when death is not the taboo it once was, we need to embrace the needs of the person behind the patient.”

As part of Dying Matters Awareness Week, SUHT’s palliative care team will launch its end of life care strategy at an event later today (Monday).

Posted on Monday 16 May 2011