Tuesday 21st February, Dr Kirsty Muirhead on Palliative Care

Dr Kirsty Muirhead gave the club a refreshing insight into the world of Palliative Care. Having been part of the Ayrshire Hospice Team from the outset at the beginning of the 90’s, Dr Muirhead explained the thinking behind the 2011 paper published by the Scottish Government – Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief. The paper was aimed at bringing together interested people and organisations, to ease existing societal taboos around discussions of death and dying and to improve support for everyone.

Dr Kirsty Muirhead with Geoff Barber

Kirsty talked about what a Good Life means to people. Having a partner, family, friends, shelter, food, comfort, a purpose and interest, enough money, a life without fear, possibly a spiritual life and last but by no means least resilience.

Moving on Kirsty talked about a Good Death. Before 1700 this was often violent and sudden. As the years went, by after 1800, a sentimental picture of pain free death, surrounded by family who were able to say goodbyes emerged.

Nowadays, newspapers, films, TV & hospital dramas paint an even rosier picture of survival which is not necessarily always the case. Patients experiencing a cardiac arrest still only have a 20% chance of survival yet on the screen this is probably nearer 80%.

Today families are scattered sometimes even on different continents so it is now more important than ever to talk about death? But how do we do it…

In the USA half of all health care expenditure is spent in the last 6 months of life. A comfort versus cure at all costs mentality sometimes avoiding realism and difficult conversations.

Talking with Individuals, families and society, most people would want to be in the right place, as comfortable as possible and with the people they want beside them. Also important is knowing professional help is available and being free of anxiety, fear and the feeling that they are not burdening those left behind. In reality, problems emerge with funeral arrangements, burial or cremation? Wills, Power of Attorney, Tenancy agreements, Money to pay for funerals, family rifts and even spiritual issues are all too common.

Good Grief… Simple things like being there to say “can I help?” Practical things, food, lifts, shopping may seem mundane but help with these can lessen the stress of grief. Structured routines and support groups Rotary are also essentials as are books, leaflets and professional support from Doctors etc…

With 55,000 deaths each year in Scotland, there is now the danger of “Funeral Poverty” due to the rising costs. Previously “shillings for the funeral” plans covered costs but now this has become an additional burden for the next generation. A “Death Plan” is something that can help so that those who are left can know the arrangements they make are what would have been wanted. Kirsty rounded up her talk by stressing that societal debate and changes in attitude over Death will help overcome this great taboo.

After many questions from the floor, Geoff Barber gave the Vote of Thanks.