There’s something about the British national character that makes us very reluctant to discuss death. Is it fear, or a consequence of our famous British reserve?
Since death is a certainty, it surely deserves more consideration. After all, when the event comes, we all want a good end, for ourselves and those we love.
The uncomfortable truth is that too often this doesn’t happen. Nearly two thirds of people say they would prefer to die at home, yet more than half of deaths take place in hospital. Some might have to, but many do not.
Most people’s second choice is to die in a hospice. And we are very fortunate to have some excellent hospices in West Sussex. I am honoured to be a Patron of St Barnabas House, and the wonderful Chestnut Tree House in my constituency is a reminder that, sadly, children too sometimes need excellent palliative care.
Yet these hospices are run almost entirely on charitable donations, supported by the generosity of local people.
Last week I was invited to speak about this issue, along with the Leader of West Sussex County Council, Louise Goldsmith, at a meeting of the All Party Group for Palliative Care in the House of Commons.
We were discussing a new document written by the National Council for Palliative Care and Marie Curie Cancer Care. ‘Ten questions to ensure good end of life care’ is a checklist of the things which ought to be done in each area to ensure that people receive the best care at the end of their lives.
We can improve administrative arrangements. The new Health and Wellbeing Board and GP commissioning groups in West Sussex should help patient needs to be better reflected.
But in the end, it’s our decision as a society about we treat the very elderly and the very unwell that will make the difference. At our best, heroic carers and dedicated family members do everything in their power to look after their dependents. At our worst, we push the problem away and sometimes into an institution.
Too many people don’t have a good death as a result. They aren’t where they want to be to die - at home.
They don’t spend as much time with their families as they want and deserve. This doesn’t have to happen. Death is inescapable.
But we could make dying better. If you would like to get in touch with me, please write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org