It has been suggested that the western world has lost its 'death literacy' as we increasingly look to outsource end of life care to businesses. A new public health approach to palliative care has been put forward as a compassionate alternative development in end of life care.
Based on the work of Professor Allan Kellehear – medical and public health sociologist with interests in death, dying and end of life care – the new public health approach encourages ordinary members of the community to adopt the stance that health is everyone’s responsibility. This idea was evident in the 1970s and 80s when the community was tasked with discouraging others from, among others thing, harmful substances and unhealthy eating habits, and advocating safe sex.
Kellehear and other health professionals suggest we can apply this approach to end of life care in a number of ways. Community engagement can help reduce the burden on palliative health professionals and therefore improve their work.
Moreover, those with terminal illness can often encounter anxiety, depression, social isolation, family breakdown and a litany of other problems, and promoting wellbeing through engagement with local schools, businesses and workplaces can improve a patient’s wellbeing immeasurably.
St Christopher’s hospice in the UK enlisted the help of local school children to visit those approaching the end of life with twofold benefits – increased awareness of the issues around terminal illness and dying amongst the young students and, at the same time, providing company for patients.
Volunteer care programs, where locals are trained in the care of frail and vulnerable people, are also encouraged, and increased social interaction and care were shown to reduce panic and anxiety among patients.
These ideas are all part of the compassionate community model that is gaining traction here in Australia. Kerrie Noonan, co-founder of The GroundSwell Project, has been involved in implementing these ideas in eight communities across Australia, and she and compassionate communities project lead Holly Rankin Smith spoke with Nursing Review about the project.
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