Let’s talk about death

Death is a reality we all have to come to terms with, but something few people like talking about – and that can include doctors.

But if Westmead Hospital clinical nurse consultant Mary Roberts has her way, more people will be having crucial discussions concerning their future care.

Ms Roberts is leading a study examining some of the reasons why people living with chronic respiratory illness might not discuss their preferences for end-of-life care before it’s too late.

She hopes the findings of the study will lead to creating more opportunities to talk, in turn ensuring more patients have their wishes met.

Westmead Hospital Foundation director Joe Conneely, Professor John Wheatley, Mary Roberts, Dr Jin-Gun Cho and Westmead Hospital Research Foundation chair James Nguyen.

“A family’s instinct when it comes to care is ‘do everything’, but that’s often not what the patient wants,” Ms Roberts said.

“The patient might feel they have ‘fought a good fight’ and now just want to be made comfortable. Or they might be happy to try invasive therapies if it gives them a little more time. Either way, it is important for them to be able to make the decision and have their wishes respected.”

Professor John Wheatley, Dr Jin-Gun Cho and Dr Tracy Smith are also involved in the study, which is being conducted by Respiratory and Sleep Medicine at Westmead Hospital.

The research was made possible by a $67,000 grant from the Westmead Medical Research Foundation Betty Schofield and Joyce Anderson 2019 bequest.

Mary Roberts and Dr Tracy Smith. Part of their study involves a national survey for doctors and nurses to share their thoughts on dying and talking about death.

Through focus groups with patients, carers, doctors and nurses across Western Sydney Local Health District, as well as a national survey, the team aims to come up with a plan to enable more people with chronic lung disease to formally discuss their preferences for end-of-life care.

Ms Roberts said having an advance care plan also helps take some of the stress off families during emotionally challenging times, allowing them to focus on caring for their loved one.

April 1-5 is National Advance Care Planning Week, when Australians are encouraged to produce a plan for their end-of-life care. To find out more, go to advancecareplanning.org.au and speak to your doctor.