British Medical Journal throws spotlight onto dying, death and bereavement issues

17 September 2010
The British Medical Journal’s (BMJ) first ‘Spotlight’ segment highlights the need for society’s attitudes towards dying, death and bereavement to change if we are to achieve a good death for all.

Jane Seymour, Sue Ryder Care professor of palliative and end of life studies at The University of Nottingham, Eve Richardson, Chief Executive of Dying Matters, and Jeff French, Professor of Social Marketing at Brunel University say that increased openness around death will mean more people will have their needs and wishes fulfilled at the end of their lives.

Professor Mayur Lakhani, Chair of the Dying Matters Coalition and a practising GP, said:

“This paper is important because it reinforces that it’s vitally important that we all take responsibility for communicating what we want at the end of our lives and plan our dying with family and loved ones.

60% of us want to die at home, but 58% of us still die in hospitals – often when not medically necessary. And only 34% of us have talked to friends or family about how we want to be cared for when we are dying, or made any advanced care statement to inform our care.

People tell us their own deaths seem a long way off, but achieving a good death is more likely if we talk about it early on.  What constitutes ‘a good death’ will be unique to you, but is likely to involve choices about where you want to die, what kinds of care you want or don’t want, and how you want to be remembered after your death.  Making these needs clear ahead of time will make your final days more pleasant and reassure your family after your death.

If starting a conversation feels difficult, the Coalition’s leaflets and online resources – as well as more than 12,000 members in communities across the country – can provide advice or a helping hand.

The BMJ segment really is a landmark publication because it also contains an essential guide for doctors in how to identify patients who are coming to the end of their life. I would urge all doctors to become familiar with these clinical criteria and to start using the guide in their daily practice.”

Claire Henry, Director of the National End of Life Care Programme, which funded research on which the article is partly based, said:

“Clinicians and other care workers need to understand their central role in supporting individuals nearing the end of their life and their families. Talking to people about their prognosis and future care options is the key to unlocking real choice and control for individuals and their families. This research shows that people are increasingly willing to have those challenging conversations so they can plan for the future.

The millions of health and social care staff involved in end of life care must respond to that change by ensuring they have the communications skills appropriate to their role so they can initiative advance care planning with vulnerable people. That will mean more people receive end of life care in the setting they choose, with their wishes and preferences respected.

The NEoLCP’s interim analysis of access to communications skills training, to be published next week, suggests that employers and training providers need to take a more co-ordinated approach. It identifies particular gaps for health staff working in fields other than cancer and in social care.”


Kate Moffat, Dying Matters: 020 7618 9102

Chris Mahony, National End of Life Care Programme:  0207 923 7677 or 07812 692722

Read the British Medical Journal's release here.

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