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90% of public say healthcare professionals should be trained in talking about death

12 May 2014

90% of people surveyed agree that all healthcare professionals should receive compulsory training in how to talk sensitively to people who are dying and their families, according to a poll carried for Dying Matters Awareness Week.

The ComRes survey of 2,000 British adults also found that many have not made plans for their death and do not know the wishes of their loved ones, despite agreeing that it is a good idea to be prepared.

While only 36% said they have written a will, 80% believe that all adults should be required to have a will to avoid disputes after they have died.

The survey also found that just over a third (34%) have registered as an organ donor or have a donor card, 29% have let someone know their funeral wishes and just 6% have written down their wishes or preferences about their future care, should they be unable to make decisions for themselves.

Digital legacy

The survey also looked at the growing issue of people’s digital legacy. Despite widespread online and social media use, the majority of people (71%) have never thought about what would happen to their digital legacy, such as social media and online accounts, online photos and music. When asked, more than one in ten of people (11%) did however say they would want a friend or family member to keep updating their social media accounts on their behalf after they die.

GPs

A second survey of a thousand GPs found that they were only a little better prepared than the general public. 

Only 40% of GPs say they have talked to someone about their own end of life wishes, and just over half (57%) have written a will. 33% have let someone know what their funeral wishes are and a mere 8% have written down their wishes about their future care.

Claire Henry, Chief Executive of the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care, commented: "Dying is one of life’s few certainties, but many of us appear to be avoiding discussing it or in denial altogether. Talking more openly about dying and planning ahead is in everyone's interests, as it can help ensure we get our wishes met and make it easier for our loved ones. You only die once, which is why it’s so important to make your wishes known while there’s still time."

Professor Mayur Lakhani, a practising GP and Chair of the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care added: “Discussing dying is rarely easy, but unless we have the conversations that matter we’re unlikely to get the right care and support.

"Although it’s encouraging that increasing numbers of doctors are discussing end of life wishes with patients to help get them the right care and support, there’s still a long way to go. What we need now is a national conversation about dying, so that healthcare professionals and the general public become more comfortable in discussing dying, death and bereavement. Dying matters, so let’s talk about it."

Hospices sharing expertise

David Praill, Chief Executive of Help the Hospices, said: "As this survey indicates too many Britons continue to shy away from facing up to issues around death and dying. This is something that will have to change in the future given our rapidly ageing population and the wider cultural impact this will inevitably have on society.

"However, there is clearly strong public support for things to change, especially through more training for healthcare professionals to enable them to talk about death and dying with terminally ill people and their families sensitively and empathetically.

"Hospices are already sharing their longstanding expertise in this area with staff in hospitals and other healthcare providers through a range of training and education programmes.

"Hospices are also working to meet people's wishes about where they prefer to die, particularly by expanding the care they offer to people in their own homes and through more outreach programmes."

Dying Matters Awareness Week (12 to 18 May 2014) is a UK-wide week of events and activities based on the theme You Only Die Once (#YODO) – because we only get one chance to have our dying wishes met. Find out more about what's going on throughout the week and how to get involved on the Dying Matters website and on the Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief website.

See more articles in Community engagement

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