Why were we talking about death?

  • 25 November 2019

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Dr Katherine Sleeman an academic and clinician in palliative care from Kings College recently travelled from her base in London, to Arthur Rank Hospice Charity’s Education & Conference Centre in Cambridge. to address the all-important topic of talking about death.

‘Let’s Talk About Death – but why’ sold out well before the night of the event, and guests were certainly not disappointed.  Not only did guests hear the latest research on palliative care from Katherine herself, guests also enjoyed a lively discussion with a panel of experts and a hot meal courtesy of the Hospice’s head chef. Described as ‘Brilliant’, ‘Very interesting’ and ‘Excellent‘ the event took place at Arthur Rank Hospice, a place that is used to looking death right in the face. Yet, still to most of society, it is a subject that is difficult to tackle.

Katherine explained that the demographics of dying are changing, and we are facing a crisis. She detailed we are living longer but dying slower and with greater complexity as we survive for long enough to accumulate multiple health problems. She highlighted some sobering stats (source: Kings Health Partners). The number of people who die each year is projected to increase by 25% over the next 20 years. There are currently around half a million deaths each year in England and Wales, by 2040 there will be an additional 130,000 people dying each year, most of whom will have palliative care needs. How we care for these people as they approach death is one of the biggest challenges our society, let alone our NHS, faces.

Part of the reason this is such a big challenge is that care for people who are dying takes a lot of resource. It’s estimated that around 20% of NHS resources are spent on treatments in the last year of patients’ lives. Costs of care increase exponentially towards death, with acute hospital care accounting for most of this increase. We know that most people, if faced with a terminal illness, would prefer to die in their own home. While home deaths have risen over the past decade, still around 50% of people die in hospital. What’s more, other indicators of potentially aggressive end of life care, such as Emergency Department attendance in the last year of life, have gone up.

‘Let’s Talk About Death – but why?’ aimed to explore what it means to have a good death and the individual and societal barriers to achieving this.  Now, the question is did we achieve what we set out to do?

Two hours after the event started, folk were still discussing ways of collaborating, how to share the message with others and what they could do to help our cause.  With most attendees signing up to hear about our next talk (date to be confirmed) and expressing their desire to continue the topic of conversation in their own communities and throughout their networks we feel we got pretty close to achieving our goal!

If you would like to join the mailing list for our forthcoming talks – please contact fundraising@arhc.org.uk