Doctor bringing end-of-life issues to the global stage to address World Research Congress

Categories: People & Places.

Dr Mark Taubert said he is “dumbfounded” by the international attention he is still receiving because of the open letter he wrote on the “profound” effect David Bowie’s death had on him.

The Cardiff based palliative-care doctor’s letter was re-tweeted by Bowie’s son; filmmaker Duncan Jones bringing the issues raised about palliative care into the global spotlight.

Dr Taubert is still getting responses to the blog which appeared in the British Medical Journal from around the world.

Dr Taubert said Dr Mary Devins – Ireland’s only consultant paediatrician with a special interest in palliative care based at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital – was in touch with him to tell him the letter had been picked up by Irish media outlets.

Dr Devins and Dr Taubert had previously worked together in Swansea, Wales.

Dr Taubert said: “I think they were as dumbfounded as me about all this furore. It is strange how many newspapers covered this; my Spanish friends saw my mug in El Mundo, the story was covered in papers in Brazil, even Jakarta. I think some of the international papers actually had to explain to their readers what a palliative care doctor is and does, so alien was the concept.

“I do admit that I was very chuffed that Rolling Stone, NME and Billboard covered the story. I’ve done my bit to get palliative care into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Dr Taubert said.

Dr Taubert will present a research poster entirely through Twitter when he attends the conference in Dublin from June 9th to 11th. Almost 1,200 delegates from around the world are expected to attend the event.

Dr Taubert said:” These big events matter because they bring together people from all walks of life and from all over the world, and you don’t know who you’ll end up talking to and collaborating with. “In a month where the European ideal will be in the world’s spotlight, I think we need to remember all the great opportunities of cross-collaboration.

“Working in palliative care can be rewarding, but also brings considerable stresses and challenges, so it is really important to come and enjoy events like these, and share some experiences with co-workers and like minded individuals.

“We all need a ‘reboot’ sometimes, and that’s what the EAPC events are. Our Twitter-only poster is a new idea to share our work during the conference with attendees but also people not able to travel to Dublin, who will be following the #EAPCirl hashtag on Twitter across the world. It is starting to feel like a strong global community, which is great.”

Dr Taubert didn’t even consider palliative care when he was in medical schools. It took him “quite some time to decide which specialist would be the best fit.”

He said: “All the jobs I did, community or hospital always had a strong element of care through serious illnesses. I enjoyed the contact and follow up with patients and when I think back to the start of my career, many people I helped care for spring back to mind immediately, such was their impact on me. The team work was another big draw, and I have such fantastic support from all my colleagues in Cardiff and Wales, that I feel very lucky. 

I also find the pharmacology around analgesic drugs fascinating, and can spend ages reading through the PCF (Palliative Care Formulary). ”

As well as his Twitter poster, Dr Taubert will also give an eight minute talk on his research into drug Buprenorphine and its efficacy for palliative care settings.

Nineteen randomised controlled trials were analysed after an extensive literature search, comparing buprenorphine with placebo, buprenorphine or another active drug for cancer pain. The trials included 1421 patients and examined 16 different intervention comparisons.

Dr Taubert’s letter to Bowie was published on a blog on the British Medical Journal in January. Dr Taubert is still getting responses to the post from around the world.

In the letter he raised the issue of dying at home as an option.

The doctor also mentions a woman with advanced cancer. They are both fans of Bowie’s music. He talked with the woman about the way she would like to die.

He wrote: “We talked about a good death, the dying moments and what these typically look like. And we talked about palliative care and how it can help.”

“We both wondered who may have been around you when you took your last breath and whether anyone was holding your hand. I believe this was an aspect of the vision she had of her own dying moments that was of utmost importance to her, and you gave her a way of expressing this most personal longing to me, a relative stranger.”

Advances in palliative care through modern technology, including remote patient monitoring and symptom assessment through body sensors will be unveiled at the three day conference in UCD.

It’s the first time Ireland has hosted the congress.  Registration is now open at Registration closes on June 10th.

Plenary speakers are Dr Russell Portenoy of MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care in New York and Dr Stein Kaasa, Head of Oncology Department at Oslo University Hospital.

Dr Portenoy, also the Chief Medical Officer of MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care and a Professor of Neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, will discuss the challenges and opportunities in the provision of palliative care. In 2013, Dr. Portenoy was elected one of 30 “visionaries” in palliative care by the membership of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

Professor Stein Kaasa, an MD with specialisation in medical oncology, radiotherapy and palliative medicine, will deliver a lecture on hospital integrated care pathways in palliative care. For decades he has been involved in the development of national and international guidelines for cancer treatment. 
The programme includes an extensive session on Advance Care Planning – a topic that is particularly relevant for the Irish audience given that the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015, which includes a new provision to legislate for Advance Care Directives, was passed by the Oireachtas in December.

Further information is available at:

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