GPs talk about commitment to ensure that people across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have a good and dignified death as part of Dying Matters week

Health and care partners across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have made strides as part of a system wide commitment to ensure people have a good death. 

NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group and all health and social care partners have been working to ensure people at the end of their life are at the heart of everything they do. 

This week is Dying Matters week- Monday 14 May to Sunday 20 May – and the theme is "What Can You Do... in your community?" which aims to shine a spotlight on the importance of everyone whether in their personal or professional life talking openly about dying, death and bereavement. 

Dr Tamsyn Anderson, GP and Director of Primary Care at Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFT) is also chairperson of the End of Life Strategy Board. 

She said as a GP she is privileged to be involved in the planning and sometimes the moment of death of her patients, as well as helping loved ones to cope afterwards. 

Dr Anderson said: “Death is a certainty and at times this is managed really well. Often though it comes as a dreadful sudden surprise and as a system there is far more we can do to prepare and support our patients and their families.” 

The End of Life Strategy Board was launched in 2013 and is formed of NHS Kernow, Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust, the Isles of Scilly Councils, Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFT), representatives from the care home and care at home market, the out of hours service, Cornwall Hospice Care, St Luke’s Hospice, Macmillan, Marie Curie, Healthwatch Cornwall and primary care. 

It has three priority areas to tackle to further improve end of life care for people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. 

These are: 

  1. Public awareness raising and end of life education training
  2. Information sharing: advance care planning and tools (treatment escalation plans, electronic EOL register
  3. Timely and appropriate response

Dr Anderson said: “All of the providers have agreed that it is vital that we work collaboratively with a system wide commitment, for the good of our patients, making sure that everything we do is joined up and that the person is always at the heart of everything we do.

“As a doctor I see it as an enormous privilege to be involved in making sure when the time comes for people’s lives to end that it is dignified, peaceful and they are surrounded by the people that they love. 

“We have fantastic teams across primary care, the community, our hospices and acute trust, who are all committed to ensuring people receive the most dignified death possible. There are times we don’t get it right and we need to learn and improve the care we give.” 

She said: “As clinicians it can often be very challenging to have those conversations with people who are coming to the end of their life and their families because our goal is to prolong life and it may be seen as giving up on someone. But death is a fact of life, I wish to see us working together with patients and families to explore thoughts and fears around death to ensure we recognise end of life and make plans. I want us to be able to share this information as a system so patients feel understood and supported. Most of all I want our system to be responsive and caring to the dying person and their family so they do not feel alone or frightened and feel cared for and supported.” 

Work is also underway to develop a safe and secure system which should allow health professionals involved in the care of someone who is terminally ill to be able to share information about the individual. 

“It is very difficult to share information about a patient that is necessary to their end of life care and wellbeing across the system. However, it is really important to all health professionals that they have access to that information so that the person or a member of their family doesn’t have to keep saying the same thing over and over again to different people. 

“If we have one shared information platform, patients and their families could be confident that their wishes will be recognised and respected by all providers across the system whatever the time of day or night.” 

Kate Mitchell, NHS Kernow’s programme lead for long term conditions, said: “We want to make sure that people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly achieve a good death in their preferred place of care and reduce the number of unnecessary hospital attendances and admissions for people at the end of their lives. 

“We will achieve this by working together, through appropriate training, enhanced community based services and ensuring providers can talk and listen openly and confidentially to increase the positive experiences for people, families and carers.”  

Healthwatch Cornwall is hosting My Life, My Death as part of Dying Matters Awareness Week at the Eden Project on Thursday 17 May. The event is for professionals only.