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Dignity at last.

IT was 26 years ago this week that I first heard the expression "a good death".

My mum, Gloria, had just slipped peacefully away after a long, painful battle with cancer.

She was 57 and had planned to spend her final days in a hospice where she'd received respite care.

But the end, when it came, took us by surprise and Mum died in our local hospital, where she'd trained as a nurse and worked for 30 years.

My family and I were obviously heartbroken. But as we held her hands and said goodbye I understood why the nurses at her bedside called it "a good death".

Mum was warm, comfortable and free of pain as her morphine drip was adjusted constantly. Her fluid levels were monitored and her lips moistened when she could no longer drink.

We were kept informed and supported every tearful step of the way.

The anniversary of her death is always poignant but this year I've thought about it even more.

Because the Royal College of Physicians has just published an audit on end-of-life care in the NHS - and it makes for heart-rending reading. Thousands of dying patients are dehydrated and in pain during their final hours, while their families are often left in the dark.

Records of 9,302 patients who died in 142 different trusts last May showed that half had not been helped to drink in their final 24 hours.

In some hospitals only one in five had their medication reviewed. One in 20 patients' families were not actually told their loved one was dying.

Things have improved in the past two years - since the controversial Liverpool Care Pathway was abolished. It made NHS staff follow strict guidelines which made end-of-life care a box-ticking exercise.

But the report says the vast majority of the 200,000 who die in hospital each year "still have limited or no access to specialist palliative care when they need it in hospital".

Dr Adrian Tookman from the Marie Curie charity says funding is urgently needed to train more doctors and nurses to provide death care 24/7. Worryingly, the Royal College of Nursing's Amanda Cheesley believes some staff are terrified of comforting the dying.

She says: "People cross the road to avoid talking to someone who is dying or bereaved. We mustn't do that in hospitals. We need to be there."

She insists palliative care does not require costly, highly technical skills, because "this is about being a human being, a nice person".

I find it shocking and tragic that since my Mum's death in 1990 the underfunded, over-stretched NHS has lost its ability to give dignified care to patients in their last hours.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt needs to take a long hard look at this report's recommendations... and ensure ALL our loved ones can have "a good death".

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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion Column
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Apr 3, 2016
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