Don’t leave it too late to discuss death

Categories: Community Engagement.

The British Social Attitudes (BSA) research was carried out for the Dying Matters Coalition and released to coincide with Dying Matters Awareness Week (13-19 May). It finds encouraging signs that older people are increasingly taking action to make their end of life wishes known but that most people are leaving it too late to face up to their own mortality. This is despite almost two-thirds of people (63%) have been bereaved in the last five years.

The study reveals that although 70% of the public say they are comfortable talking about death, most haven’t done anything to discuss end of life wishes or put plans in place:

  • Only just over one in three people (35%) have a will, down on 39% in 2009 – with the impact of economic pressures being a possible cause of this decline.
  • Fewer than a third of people (28%) have registered as an organ donor or have a donor card – although the number of organ donations after death has risen by 50% since 2008, more than 1,000 people on the transplant waiting list die each year (NHS Blood and Transplant figures).
  • Only 11% of people have written down their funeral wishes/made a funeral plan.

Professor Mayur Lakhani, Chair of the Dying Matters Coalition and a practising GP said: “There are powerful benefits of having early conversations with people who are approaching the end of their life, as it puts them in control and gives a chance to resolve any life issues. It also means that plans can be made for people to get the care and support that is right for them.

“Whilst more of us than ever are living to a ripe old age, people are also living for longer with dementia and other life-limiting conditions, which makes it especially important to talk more openly about the care and support we would want. It’s only by having the conversations that matter and planning ahead that care of the dying will be improved and people will get their end of life wishes met.”

Despite heightened public anxiety over care of the dying, from concerns raised over the implementation of the Liverpool Care Pathway to the Francis Inquiry into failings at Stafford Hospital, the British Social Attitudes findings reveal just one in 20 of people (5%) has an advance care plan, setting out how they would want to be cared for if they couldn’t make decisions themselves and whether, for example, they would want to be resuscitated.

The research also reveals a major mismatch between where people want to die and current trends in terms of place of death. Latest NHS figures show that more than half of us die in hospital. Yet, the research shows that just 7% would prefer to die in hospital, compared with two-thirds (67%) who would prefer to die at home.

This is the first time the authoritative British Social Attitudes survey has asked these questions about dying, although comparisons can be made with similar research carried out in 2009. This shows that older people are becoming more likely to make their end of life wishes known. If applied to the whole British population, the findings show that an extra 200,000 people aged 55-75 reported feeling comfortable talking about death in 2012 (when the BSA research took place) compared with 2009, and that 400,000 more people aged 55-75 had discussed their end of life wishes or had some written plan for end of life in 2012 compared with 2009.

Eve Richardson, chief executive of the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care,commented: “It’s encouraging that older people are becoming more comfortable discussing dying and their end of life wishes, but as a nation too many of us are still shunning the conversations that can help avoid heartbreak and regret at the end of life. You don’t have to be ill or dying to make plans for your future, which is why we are calling on people across the country to take practical steps by writing a will, recording their funeral wishes, planning their future care and support, considering registering as an organ donor and telling loved ones their wishes.”

The fourth annual Dying Matters Awareness Week runs from 13-19 May 2013. Dying Matters members across England will be hosting events and activities

A wide range of information and practical resources to help people to talk more openly about dying and put their plans in place are available to download at

Dying Matters is also running an initiative to encourage people to tweet what their final words would be. More information on Final Tweets: reflecting on the end of life initiative in is available at 

Keep visiting ehospice during the week for more news about Dying Matters Week.

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