Dr Kathleen McLoughlin (Compassionate Communities Project Co-ordinator, Milford Care Centre), Ireland, thinks that death, dying, loss and care is everyone’s business. Here, Kathleen talks to Irene Murphy (Board member, European Association for Palliative Care) about her work in palliative care that has led to her recent award of CMG Irish Healthcare Person of the Year 2014, presented in Dublin in March.
Irene Murphy: How did you become involved in palliative care?
Kathleen McLoughlin: Quite by accident! I am a psychologist and in 2001 I was involved in a Palliative Care Needs Assessment for the Midland Health Board, conducted following recommendation from the National Advisory Council’s Palliative Care Report.
IM: Much of your work seems to centre around the demystification of death and dying. What sparked this particular area of interest for you?
KM: A key finding from the needs assessment was that there was significant fear and stigma associated with palliative care – patients described how they had initially rejected referral to palliative care but having experienced an improved quality of life wished they had accepted the referral earlier. This motivated me to develop a PhD proposal to explore attitudes toward palliative care. The study was funded by the Irish Hospice Foundation and The Health Research Board. It highlighted that whilst there was some fear and stigma associated with palliative care – it is our attitude and behaviour toward death and dying that needs to be addressed. My work was based on the Health Promoting Palliative Care approach, described by Professor Allan Kellehear, and I battled with ethics committees to complete the research! The result was two education programmes and a model to describe health professionals’ attitudes toward palliative care.
I attended the 1st International Public Health and Palliative Care Conference in 2009, which sparked an idea to develop a Compassionate Communities project in Ireland and to host a subsequent conference here in 2013. Milford Care Centre, where I was working at the time, quickly recognised the importance of health promoting palliative care. Since then the Compassionate Communities project has been launched in Limerick, staff at the hospice performed in the play ‘Cancer Tales’ for a public audience, a series of films have developed from ‘Bill’s Story’ and of course, the 3rd Public Health and Palliative Care Conference was hosted in Limerick in 2013. Everything I have done has been team based, and could not have been done without engagement from many other people working in palliative care in the Mid-West [of Ireland].
IM: You spoke at the award ceremony about changes that are needed in palliative care. Can you tell me about this?
KM: Death and dying is a natural process but over time, it has become medicalised. We need to encourage communities to support people who are dying and reignite the principles of conversation, care and compassion within society so that we can all feel more comfortable supporting those within our own networks, who are facing death or experiencing loss.
Specialist palliative care professionals are in a unique position to encourage people to engage in issues associated with end of life openly and appropriately, at every stage of human development. We need to encourage everyone and not just health care professionals to reflect on their own mortality as it can influence attitudes toward palliative care and, in turn, patterns of referral and practice.
IM: What are your three key goals in the future?
KM: I have recently returned to Milford Care Centre, having worked with The Irish Hospice Foundation for two years, so one goal is to further develop the Compassionate Communities programme. I am currently pursuing funding to conduct a randomised controlled trial to examine the impact of a social model of care for people living at home and therefore add to the limited evidence base of health promoting palliative care and finally, I suppose I had better practise what I preach and complete my ‘Think ahead’ form!
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Vă așteptăm la cel de-al 8-lea Congres Mondial de Cercetare al EAPC în Leida , Spania, 5 – 7 Iunie 2014. Urmăriți-ne pe Twitter @EAPCOnlus – hashtag-ul oficial al congresului este #eapc2014