On 18th May, I joined a free online seminar hosted by Compassion in Dying. Entitled ‘Important Conversations: Will Coronavirus change how we talk about dying?’, the seminar explored this question from many angles.

Dame Barbara Monroe (Chair of Compassion in Dying) introduced the event. Her view was that the Coronavirus pandemic presents a watershed moment in advance care planning conversations. She was joined by six guest speakers, each giving a five minute summary of their own perspective. These guest speakers included a patient advocate living with cancer, the Director of Information and Partnerships at Compassion in Dying, an award winning Health Correspondent for The Independent, a breast cancer surgeon who has breast cancer, an intensive care anaesthetist and a palliative care physician/author.

Important Conversations Seminar

The seminar then explored questions from some of the 500 participants. Audience members were 250 health and social care professionals and 250 members of the general public. Discussions covered areas including:

– Empowering patients to find their voice in these conversations

– Training for medical students supporting these conversations with patients and their family members

– Culture change from medics know best to patients know best in these convesations

– Tips on starting these conversations

The area that interested me most was the discussion about how members of the public can help to promote and support these conversations. Due to my personal, volunteering and occupational experience I have been involved in initiating and supporting many of these conversations. The most important of these have been about my own and my family members’ preferences of care. I feel very strongly that by participating in these most personal conversations myself has given me the best preparation for supporting others with their conversations. In this way, I have experienced the process of these conversations, the range of emotions these conversations can stimulate and the mechanisms that can capture and share this information.

Training of Medical & Social Care Professionals in Advance Care Planning

One area I have previously contributed to is the training of medical/social care professionals. By sharing a relative’s perspective, my aim was to encourage a respectful conversation between the patient, their family and relevant medical/social care professionals. I hope to make further contributions to this important area of training. Ideally, I’d love to see a contribution from patients and their relatives to training for medical/social care students in advance care planning. This would focus the training clearly on the patient and their preferences at the start and centre of each conversation.

Advance Care Planning – Important Conversations

Having compassion is an essential part of supporting these advance care planning conversations. Encouraging each patient to explore and express what is most important to them, what they are most afraid of and what they hope for, produces the basis for truly individualised plans. Conversations also need to include the views of those relatives and friends involved in caring for the patient, as they are a key part of fulfilling these plans.

If you would like to see the seminar, it is available at https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=bazManx0aAU

Further information and support for advance care planning conversations can be found at https://compassionindying.org.uk/