Tackling taboos with local children

A nurse educator explains how the specialist palliative care team is breaking one of the last taboos of palliative illness.

Talking about death and dying is still a big taboo in our society, despite the fact that it’s one of the only things guaranteed to affect us all at some point. There is no doubt that this is a very challenging thing for anyone to face let alone a younger person or a child.

At the Queen Elizabeth Hospital we have now forged links with a local secondary school to encourage young people to talk about death and learn how to support each other when their family members, teachers or school friends are faced with a palliative illness.

Our staff who have been involved in this initiative thoroughly enjoyed the experience as part of our “dying matters event “and describe how successful it has been and how they are working together to improve care for patients, families and carers in Gateshead.

As part of the project our specialist team have been encouraging young volunteers to support our hospital’s palliative care in-patient unit, St Bede’s.It has often been thought that young volunteers are too immature to work in this type of environment, but recent studies have shown that the very ill and the students can both benefit greatly from this collaboration.

One of the biggest myths we encounter is that you shouldn’t talk to children about death, dying or bereavement so we’ve been actively working with pupils at Cardinal Hume Catholic School to tackle this difficult subject.

The Specialist Palliative Care Team worked closely with the schools chaplain Jo Proctor and the children and sought their views on three important issues:

1.Should children be involved in discussions about death, dying and bereavement?

2.What would you say or do for someone who had just lost somebody?

3.What would you want somebody to say or do for you if you had just lost somebody?

The replies were overwhelming and showed that children can, and want, to be involved in these conversations. We arranged a special Macmillan day which created an opportunity for pupils and school staff to speak to the nurses and ask questions, read more, take away information and talk or share their feelings with others.

As a result of this event some of the 6th form pupils have now applied to volunteer within the hospital as they are looking to a further career in medicine or care.

At the end of the project it was great to have such positive feedback in this letter from the school: "We really loved having you in the school and one of the children had the best day ever. Thank you so much for your support this term and I look forward to meeting up next term with you all to plan so more".

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