More straight talk needed on final wishes: doctor

Dr Claire Hepper
Dr Claire Hepper

CRESWICK doctor Claire Hepper says there is a need for more straight talking about death and dying.

Dr Hepper and palliative care advocates Shannon’s Bridge will host an information session on Tuesday in a bid to help spark community action on death, dying and bereavement.

The event is part of Dying to Know Day, on which Ballarat Hospice will take part in the headline event at Federation Square, Melbourne.

Dr Hepper, a general practitioner, said there needed to be greater grassroot discussions on advance care plans – she wanted people to remember death was a part of life.

“Healthcare professionals have a much better chance of helping support people and respecting those wishes if we know what they are before they thrown into a maelstrom of tests, specialist visits and medication side effects,” Dr Hepper said.

“The doctors and health services do amazing work every day. But if the first time an advance care plan is mentioned is when you are already in hospital, we are not doing our jobs as community members to discuss the issue of death and dying.”

Dr Hepper is a Hospice board member and Shannon’s Bridge director. Both organisation offer expertise to help people navigate end of life care.

Shannon’s Bridge aims to improve death literacy and in training volunteers to help bridge palliative care support where services do not reach.

The organisation has built on the legacy of Shannon’s Packs, kits with the medicines, tools and information sheers so more people could die at home in relative comfort. They were the wish of Shannon McKnight, who died at her home in Mount Glasgow about a year ago, aged 19.

Shannon wanted to make palliative care easier for others in rural areas where after-hours services were stretched thin.

The Dying to Know Day theme in Creswick will be “Why NFR (not-for-resuscitation) is NQR (not quite right)”. 

Dr Hepper said Dying to Know Day, World Hospice Day and Palliative Care Week were important in generating talk. She said people plan big events in life, like weddings, births and major holidays, so it seemed sensible to also consider death.

Ballarat Hospice Care executive officer Carita Clancy said the organisation felt it was important to be involved in Dying to Know Day.

“We believe it’s time to start frank, open discussions about death, dying and bereavement and we are very pleased we can take part in a day that encourages everyone to have those vital conversations,” Ms Clancy said.

Dying to Know Day information session is open to all at the Creswick-Smeaton RSL on Tuesday, from 2-5pm.