Stark guide to deathbed etiquette is released in bid to aid families hit by coronavirus


A stark guide to deathbed etiquette has been released in a bid to aid families hit by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Centre for The Art of Dying Well at St Mary’s University, London, advised relatives unable to be physically with their loved ones to communicate with them virtually, trust in the care of doctors and nurses and not let feelings of guilt take over.

The guide also said relatives should speak from the heart, remember to say important last words and reassure them that you ‘will be ok’.

The UK has recorded 16,509 deaths from Covid-19 since the outbreak began, the majority of which are in individuals more than 60 years old.

As many as 124,743 cases of the virus have been identified following testing.

The guide was released by end-of-life carers at the Centre for The Art of Dying Well at St Mary’s University, London. It advises families during the coronavirus crisis

The guide recommends families should try to communicate virtually with their loved ones

The guide recommends families should try to communicate virtually with their loved ones

End-of-life care experts Dr Lynn Bassett, a retired healthcare chaplain, Dr Jo Elverson, a consultant in palliative medicine at St Oswald’s Hospice in Newcastle, and Dr Amy Gadoud, a consultant at Trinity Hospice and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals, compiled the guide to help families hit by fatalities at this time.

‘There are no rights or wrongs about the way we feel and react; no definitive map to navigate through the loss and pain,’ the guide says. ‘If these thoughts are helpful, use them; if not, trust your instincts.’ 

Dr Elverson said families should ‘feel free to talk to staff’ at hospitals to find out the best way to keep in touch and get updates.

‘So at least you’re not feeling completely out on a limb,’ she said. ‘with no idea what’s going on.’

She recommended sending in messages be they written, texts, emails or to ask the staff to pass on messages of love.

Dr Gadoud said: ‘The thing to remember is that the healthcare professionals are never going to desert the dying, that is something that I can categorically say would not happen.

‘So the contact would still be there, it might be a little bit different in that they might have to wear a face mask and the equipment you might see on television, but they will be there, and the contact will be there.’

She added there are cases where families are allowed to visit the hospital to see a loved one, although it may be for a short time. 

She said: ‘I think that’s the bombshell that we’ve all been hit by in this coronavirus crisis.

‘If people are dying of some other disease at this time, it’s possible that one relative may be allowed into the hospital or care home. It’s possible. It’s also possible you may not.’ 

Guidance for end of life care issued by government keeps changing in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said last week that ‘wherever possible’ people will be given the ‘chance to say goodbye’ to loved ones dying following reports of elderly people dying alone in care homes and hospitals banning all visitors. 

He said: ‘Wanting to be with someone you love at the end of their life is one of the deepest human instincts.’

Dr Elverson said visitors to St Oswald’s Hospice, where she works, are asked to wear protective gear such as a mask when they are visiting someone suffering from coronavirus.

The team will also give patients phones and tablets if their loved ones cannot be present. 

It also says that doctors and nurses on the wards will not ignore dying patients (Pictured: Milton Keynes hospital)

It also says that doctors and nurses on the wards will not ignore dying patients (Pictured: Milton Keynes hospital)

‘It’s not the same,’ she said, ‘but actually sometimes there are parts of that being present that we can do in a different way’.

‘Yes, you might not be able to be sitting right at their bedside holding their hand, but actually if they can hear your voice, if they can see your face, that can give them the comfort you’re hoping to give them.

‘The reason people want to be there at the bedside is to make sure their loved one is OK, to make sure that they are present to comfort and reassure them, to say the things they want to say to them, and actually if it comes down to those core things, yes it’s a compromise, but actually we can still do those things from a distance.’ 

Dr Sarah Holmes, medical director at the Marie Curie Hospice Bradford, said: ‘As the nation’s end of life care charity we encourage people to plan conversations with loved ones at the end of life, as it provides an opportunity to discuss topics and ask questions that you might never have the chance to talk about again.

‘Having these conversations can help avoid long-term psychological damage and complicated grief.”

She added: ‘It’s a very human need to want to be with the people we love when they are dying, to care and comfort them, to hold their hand and let them know they are loved.’

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