St Clare Hospice in Essex has launched a new awareness-raising campaign to highlight the importance of faith and spirituality at the end of life.
The #FaithAtTheEndOfLife campaign kicked off with a study day attended by more than 80 professionals, and will use social media in the coming months to explore people’s views about faith and spirituality in relation to death and dying. As part of this the hospice will share a series of short films to share different people’s hopes and needs, within their culture, at the end of life.
The study day, which was CPD-accredited by the Royal College of Physicians, encouraged people working in health, social care and the hospice sector to discuss issues relating to faith when approaching death, and the issues preventing equitable care for all in a multi-cultural society.
Dr Qamar Abbas, Medical Director at St Clare Hospice and Co-organiser of the event said: “Recent studies have shown that there is a need for healthcare professionals to address the spiritual needs of patients; however this is often prevented by a lack of confidence around the issue. Our study day sought to help professional working in end of life care to gain more confidence in meeting people’s spiritual needs and increase their knowledge and understanding in this area.”
Key findings from the conference identified that many professionals have a fear of upsetting or offending people, and using the wrong vocabulary around spiritual issues. Additionally, this is often added to by time pressures and a lack of private space for patients. In terms of overcoming these issues the attendees identified a need for more training and information on the subject of spirituality at the end of life, and the importance of building cross-cultural professional relationships.
A number of insightful presentations were delivered by a range of experts in the field of palliative care and funeral preparations. They explored different areas relating to spiritual care, including how to achieve a good death, the funeral arrangements needed by different faiths and how different religious perspectives can enhance knowledge when giving palliative care.
The event also included an interactive element, allowing professionals to talk to representatives from various faiths about their needs. Attendees were divided into groups to visit different faith stalls to discuss spiritual and cultural sensitivities of dying patients and their families. Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Islam and Sikh faiths were represented.
On the Islam faith stall Dr Imranali Panjwani of Anglia Ruskin University said: “Understanding Muslim patients’ religious needs, [not just their practical needs] goes a long way in giving comfort to them [when facing death]. A nurse can be a listener and good delegator. This means helping Muslims observe their five daily prayers, having contacts of local Imams and mosques ready, writing down any important information about actions they want to undertake before death.”
Mita Upadhaya, a locum social worker at St Clare, described the calming effect certain Hindu mantras and music can have on a patient. “It is very important to know how to deal with people of different faiths, being aware of their needs and the way they would like things done at this time.”
St Clare’s patron Dame Claire Bertschinger on the Buddhism faith stall stressed the importance of “asking the patient what their wishes are”. She said: “If they practice Buddhism, they will want friends and family to come and chant with them. Young children might also want to be present, which is acceptable. There are many forms of Buddhism and they are all a bit different.”
One of the key sentiments expressed by attendees throughout the day was not wanting to upset anyone’s religious sensibilities. Rabbi Irit Shillor, representing the Jewish Community of Harlow, gave one such example of avoiding offence: “When a Jewish person dies it is very important to us that their hands are down by their sides and not crossed over their chest [as in the sign of the cross] as is standard – this is something that can cause distress to the relatives.”
Deacon Gill Newman, speaking about Christianity, stressed the importance of “not making assumptions, but about finding out from each patient what their faith means to them”. She said: “I think it is really important to give people the opportunities to explore their faith and express anything that is concerning them and that can only be done if we allow enough time for those conversations.”
Talking about the day’s events, Rabbi Shillor said, “For me it has been important being able to talk to carers and to help promoting a better understanding of how Judaism views death and dying. Such opportunities are rare.”
Sally Muylders, Community Engagement Manager at St Clare and co-coordinator of the Study Day, said: “In partnership with our fellow healthcare providers in the area, we are committed to overcoming these issues so that everyone can access the right care and support for them. We’d like to thank everyone who attended on the day, helping us to continue this vital dialogue around providing the best possible care for all local people.
“We’re excited to launch our #FaithAtEndOfLife campaign, and hope people enjoy learning a little more about different cultures and how we are developing care and support locally for all. We’re still looking for people to participate in the films so if this is an area that you feel strongly about please get in touch!”