A new report published on Monday by Royal London claimed that most people are not financially or emotionally prepared for death.
It showed that only two in five had made a will and three in ten had spoken about their funeral with their partner.
The most staggering statistic, however, was that two thirds of people felt generally unprepared for the death of their partner.
As assistant director of palliative care services for the hospice and neurological care charity Sue Ryder, I find this report disheartening, although not necessarily surprising.
We provide end of life care from seven hospices across the country and the experience of people shying away from speaking about death and dying is certainly one we’ve encountered before.
We launched our Online Community and Support last year to give people who are bereaved or caring for someone who is dying the opportunity to speak candidly online with others going through a similar experience, whenever and wherever they choose.
It is certainly fair to say, however, that some significant progress has been made. The Ambitions for palliative and end of life care framework published last year was a very positive step in the right direction as it clearly lays out the areas in which we all need to improve when it comes to discussing dying – both as healthcare professionals and as a society.
Two of the more prominent points for me in relation to these recent findings are to ensure that “all staff are prepared to care” for people at the end of life and that “each community is prepared to help”.
It would be hoped that all healthcare staff are properly equipped to have conversations about death, but we know that this is not always the case. Many healthcare professionals can still be reluctant to initiate these conversations with patients as they may not have the confidence or the relevant training.
Broaching the topic of ‘death’ can be a very difficult thing to do and requires confidence and skill; we cannot necessarily expect all healthcare professionals to possess these skills inherently but they can be learnt.
Of course, it is not all down to healthcare professionals to be the instigators of change here; society at large must play its part too. Death is still very much a taboo subject in our culture and something which is rarely brought up in conversation.
This is perhaps due in no small part to the way we understand death through the exaggerated prism of the media. Be it newspaper headlines, the climax of a soap opera or in the cinema, death is often sensationalised to seem chaotic and ill prepared for.
This does not always have to be the case. Dying can be something which we can prepare for by putting plans in to place. The first step to doing this might well be having that difficult, but vital, conversation.