End of life strategy seeks to break taboo on death

By staff writers
July 16, 2008

Facing up to death and investing in the choices it involves is at the heart of a new multi-million pound government strategy in England to support people as they come to the end of their lives.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, Health Secretary Alan Johnson said that the money put into the scheme would be new, rather than just recycled, and that the overall aim would be to help as many people as possible to die at home with family and friends if that was their wish.

But he lamented the fact that some newspapers and media outlets had refused or downgraded the story because it was "too depressing", saying that there seemed still to be a taboo over talking about death openly.

Along with Care Services Minister Ivan Lewis, Johnson announced more support for carers, community nurses on call 24/7 in all areas, and better training for staff as being included in the 10-year strategy for England.

The parallel issues in Scotland and Wales are handled by the parliament and assembly in those countries.

Mr Johnson told the BBC: "The most important objective is to ensure that people's individual needs, their priorities, their preferences for end-of-life care are identified, they are documented, they are reviewed, they are respected and acted upon wherever possible.

"That message has to go out everywhere within the NHS and that's the important starting point for everything else: if you conduct everything you do around these issues on the basis of the individual and their carer, what would they prefer, and then you draw up a car plan for them and put that into force."

He went on: "You go back to the beginning of the 20th century and people were familiar with death - many people died at home, they died of diseases at a young age.

"When the NHS came along... as a result people die in hospitals whether they want to or not, and sometimes there are issues about how they die in hospitals.

"But the big issue for us today is to give the choice to everyone."

He said the Government was putting £286 million into the project over the next three years but complained that some media were refusing to run the story because it was "too depressing for their viewers and listeners".

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