By Leon A Smith
October 24, 2011
The conference industry is one that would appear on the face of it to go from strength to strength. All of us in business receive countless invitations to numerous conferences, seminars, etc on a daily basis. Depending on how these are being organised, the charges range from nothing to an awful lot of money for attendance. Many conferences which I see details of are on a wide range of subjects. Some of them skill based, some of them on wider political issues. There are many such issues abounding within the care sector. Some conference organisers have clearly identified a new income stream organising conferences and seminars on the ”Big Society” – quite what the “Big Society” is, nobody really knows. But I guest that’s even more reason for having conferences about it – to discuss it!
I read in the press that even some key Coalition politicians are admitting that the concept of the Big Society has been over hyped and to a certain extent they may already be losing interest in this “gimmick”. After all, the Third Sector (ie voluntary organisations) have effectively been a “big society” for generations.
Last weekend I was invited to attend a conference on palliative care – not a sexy subject and perhaps not one that would immediately ring “must attend” alarm bells. Nevertheless I did attend. It was a high quality conference and the quality speakers included sociologists, geriatricians, GPs, rabbis, and many more. This is a very stigmatised subject which for many people is a complete taboo. Why do we want to talk about death and dying? The truth of the matter is that ensuring in the care sector that older people have a “good death” is absolutely vital.
Care of the dying is not only about physical hands on care - or indeed only about clinical care. It’s about ensuring that the wishes of the resident or patient are being respected. This in turn must involve advance planning. Many older people today have dementia and therefore it is vital to ascertain their end of life wishes at an early stage. Where this is simply not possible, then it is necessary of course to talk to families. Most people still die in hospital. Approximately 60% of deaths occur in this environment. A declining number of people die in their own homes. A significant number of people die in care homes. As someone responsible for the running of a care home, I know anecdotedly from talking to both residents and relatives that nobody wants to die in hospital. They would want to die in their own home and for many their own care home is “home”. We offer not only TLC but an environment in which spirituality is also important. I have often mentioned before in this blog that many people come into our care home not out of religious belief but for cultural reasons – familiarity has a reassuring effect such as being in a Jewish environment. This clearly offers comfort both to the dying and to their relatives. At the same time the support which we give to our residents must be extended to their families even after their loved one may have died.
Dealing with death can be traumatic but it is of course the one certain thing in our lives. It may not at first be an attractive subject to consider but a reality which we all should consider. We need to make known to those that may care for us in our latter days our wishes – whether we require medical intervention or not when the time comes. If we collapse with cardiac failure, do we really want active intervention which particularly amongst older people will have a very very limited chance of success. These are all issues which were discussed at the conference I attended and it is heartening to see thought, care and compassion shown by so many professionals working in the care sector to ensure that everything possible is done to provide a quality death for those for whom we are caring.