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Making dying matter

Sophie Lansdowne 09 May 2017

Sophie Lansdowne reflects on her experience working with teams in end-of-life care, marvelling at their deep compassion and dedication to the job.

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It has been an absolute privilege working with all of the hugely dedicated teams on our Living Well to the Very End programme over the last year. What has been really powerful for me is how prominent all of the teams’ genuine desire to get it right for their patients and their families has been; when it comes to caring for those at end of life, and their families, there really are no second chances, and that’s what makes working in end of life care so special.

I was recently in the beautiful Lake District, a scenic setting I am fortunate to call my second home and to visit often to see my family. My mum is a mental health nurse and passionate about her care for those with dementia in the residential care home where she works. For the vast majority of her residents, her place of work is the last place they call home, and my mum and her colleagues become something of a second family to both the residents and their relatives.

A candle is lit in memory of each person

As I began to tell her about all of the fantastic work our teams had been doing for their patients and families, she started to tell me about the practices they have in place at the care home when caring for those coming towards the end of their life. Amongst many other practices, every year the care home holds a special memorial service for all of their residents who have died. All of the residents’ families, as well as all of the staff who have cared for them, are invited to the ceremony and the centre point is lighting candles in each person’s memory.

Like all of those we work with who care for those at end of life, my mum spoke of the importance of end of life care with such passion; it’s so vital that residents and their families receive care that is reflective of their wishes in any situation, but this seems even more paramount at end of life.

Service pressures force them to simply carry on

But what also really struck me was how important this is for the staff that care for them.  So often staff are not given the time to process the death of a patient or resident they have cared for, and service pressures force them to simply carry on. For many staff, often they have been caring for a patient or resident for some time, and just as the staff are important to the patient and their family, the patient is important to them.

Listening to my mum talk about some of the practices in care home settings to support staff as well as patients and their families, I am really excited to be working with several care homes as part of the next cohort of the Living Well to the Very End programme, and I look forward to all of the learning that can be brought into acute and community settings – and vice versa.

It is such a privilege to work alongside those who care for people at end of life; our teams’ and their colleagues’ passion for their work, and their genuine desire to get it right for their patients and families is something we must support throughout the whole system. Staff should always be supported to deliver the best care for their patients and their families because we really do have only one chance to get it right.