It is easy in our work to forget the impact we can have on those we care for, as it is something we all love doing. It is an immense privilege spending time with people towards the end of their lives and such rewarding work. Sometimes though, there are extra special moments and that Christmas day was one of them.
Last Saturday 8th October marked World Hospice and Palliative Care Day, and this year the theme is 'living and dying in pain: it doesn't have to happen' - an important message on an even more important day. It has now been statistically proven that people who receive palliative care can live for longer.
Many people will struggle to get the care that they need as they approach the end of their life. According to Marie Curie, between now and 2020, approximately 250,000 people will die in London. We need to ensure that everyone who needs end of life care can expect to receive a high level of care that is personalised, coordinated, and sensitive to the needs of those around the patient as they enter their final months, weeks and days.
Hospices also have an important part to play in raising awareness of the new national commitment to end of life care. Their longstanding expertise in providing quality, compassionate care and their widespread links with organisations across their local communities, means their role will be crucial to help deliver the transformation in care for dying people that the Government desires and which is so urgently needed.
A good death - peaceful, dignified, reflective, compassionate, in the loving embrace of those closest to the dying person - is already a happy end for hundreds of thousands of people across our nation. In making this commitment, we make that promise universal, so that every dying person in England can live in anticipation of a good death.
By taking time to provide support, we help people when they most need it; we can help improve the health and wellbeing of carers and bereaved people; and we can build compassionate communities which show that - in the words of the Dying Well Community Charter - caring for one another at times of crisis and loss is everybody's responsibility.
My Granddad's final words to me came after I had prayed with him, - I thought he wasn't really conscious but then my mum and I heard him say 'Thank you' - it was the same gruff thanks I remember whenever I gave him presents at Christmas time as a child. I have to confess it was a moment to shed and happy sad tear. He had been aware, had appreciated my small action, and was resting again.
Kate's story shows just how important it is for commissioners and service-providers to do their best to help people who are approaching the end of life to stay out of hospital. They can save on costs and beds in a severely over-stretched NHS - and most importantly, they can help make it possible for dying people to be cared for in the place they want to be.
Mum died on Friday. She had a 'good death'. Those in palliative medicine define a 'good death' as one where the dying person is symptom free, in the place they want to be, with the people they want to be with. Mum died symptom free, in our lounge, with Dad by her side. Saying 'Mum died' might seem blunt to some, but that's what happened. Mum worked in palliative medicine all of her life and as a family we've always spoken about death and end of life care openly and honestly, so it seems only appropriate that we continue that when discussing Mum's death.
I can't imagine how it must feel to wonder which part of your body might fail on you next, to know that you might not live to the weekend and will never feel the sun on your skin again. Yet, she faces it with a dignity and grace that most of us can't muster when faced with the prospect of a half-hour trip on a weird smelling bus, never mind much else.
As a society we are clear that suicide is not something to be encouraged or assisted. Legalising assisted suicide flies in the face of that. It sends the message that, if you are terminally ill, ending your life is something that society endorses and that you might want to consider. Is that really the kind of society we want?
England has the chance through my Private Member's Bill to improve care. The Bill would require all commissioners to ensure their patient population has access to seven day specialist palliative care services, that patients and their families have a clear point of contact in a crisis, that there is advice available at all times to front line staff caring for dying patients and that such staff have all received core training in good end of life care.