Should we talk about death?

Palliative Care

To mark Dying Matters Week 2019, our Palliative Care Coordinator Andy Knee poses this important question and highlights the innovative ways our Palliative Care Service is supporting clients who are at risk of death or in need of bereavement support.

Should we talk about death? In St Mungo’s Palliative Care team, we think the simple answer to this question is yes.

Death is something that affects us all, that does not discriminate against gender, race, sexuality, culture, or religion. Many of us are fortunate to talk about death and our wishes with loved ones. But what if you don’t have a home? And what if you don’t have family or loved ones to have these conversations with?

This is a sad reality for lots of people who experience homelessness. A reality where many of their deaths will be preventable, undignified and untimely, with no planning for their wishes, and sadly many will be forgotten.

In 2017 there were an estimated 597 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales, which represents a 24% increase since 2013. The NHS has recently reported a rise in homeless patients returning to the streets with many observing a surge in serious illnesses in the past decade such as respiratory conditions, liver disease, and cancer. Without someone to be their voice and their advocate, many individuals will be trapped in a harmful cycle of being admitted to hospital and discharged to the streets. This is something we can change.

Dying Matters Week 2019

‘Are we ready?’ is the poignant theme of this year’s Dying Matters Week, which helps to raise awareness around this issue. At the end of 2018 we responded to the increase in homeless deaths and continue to pave the way in making change for people experiencing homelessness. We know the importance of providing end of life care and support to our clients, and we are using creative and innovative new ways to provide this service.

Our Palliative Care Service

To mark Dying Matters Week, we’re shining a light on our Palliative Care Service. This service is the only one of its kind in the homelessness sector and has benefited from dedicated funders over the last five years.

The purpose of the Palliative Care Service is to coordinate a flexible and responsive care pathway to support clients who have a terminal prognosis or acute and potentially fatal health conditions, and to provide them with options that protect their quality of life. The service works to ensure that our clients can access healthcare and that we provide appropriate support to help them approach the end of their life with dignity and respect.

We meet with local health services, lead change with research, and continue to develop tools and support structures for St Mungo’s. We’re also here to support staff across St Mungo’s to feel empowered and discuss death as openly as possible.

Our aim is to ensure that everyone experiences a ‘good death’. We are also working to destigmatise this term, which holds so much power and importance.

New Befriending Service

This year the service has expanded to include our Palliative Care Volunteer Coordinator, and in June 2019, St Mungo’s will launch a new Befriending Service.

The Befriending Service will serve to support clients that are at risk of death, or clients who need bereavement support for a recent or historical loss. In addition, the Befriending Service will support colleagues and teams around loss and bereavement, reinforcing our message: “you are not alone”.

In response to the theme of Dying Matters Week – “Are we ready?” – St Mungo’s can proudly say “We are, and will continue to be.”

Find our more about our Palliative Care Service.