Room for some art? – Addressing the difficult topics of death, dying and resuscitation

In this new series, The Arts in Palliative Care, we look at how the arts in palliative care settings can be a powerful and effective way of addressing the practical, psychological, social and spiritual issues that face people at the end of their lives.

Today, Dr Mark Taubert, Clinical Director for Palliative Medicine Velindre NHS Trust, Bevan Commission Fellow and Clinical Lead at Byw Nawr, Wales, UK, describes an inspiring project with graphic design lecturers and students from Falmouth University.

Mark Taubert with Nicola Salkeld, a lecturer on the Moth project at Falmouth University, during discussions about the Talk CPR project with graphic design students.

How do we bring together the sometimes disparate topics of art and medicine? This formed part of the discussions at a recent national UK healthcare conference. In September 2017, a health and social care conference took place in Swansea, Wales, bringing together the Welsh National Health Service, academia and industry. This Bevan Commission annual conference event showcased the progress of Prudent Healthcare in Wales and provided a great opportunity to discuss how we can all promote and deliver these Welsh principles – in very different, creative ways – one of which I outline here.

I have been a member of the Welsh Bevan Commission for some years, initially on their Exemplar scheme and now as a fellow and adviser. During this time, I have tried to bring the difficulties my patients and their proxy face into sharper focus and to explore how they would address some of these difficult, even awkward conversations. The Bevan Commission, as well as the Welsh End of Life Care coalition, Byw Nawr, and Velindre NHS Trust have all facilitated this journey.

The Talk CPR project (see my earlier post on the EAPC Blog) has multiple facets, but one includes work with graphic design lecturers and students from Falmouth University. I met them in 2017 to discuss ways we could create visual and graphic stimuli to talk about future wishes surrounding death, dying and matters such as wishes about cardiopulmonary resuscitation. This resulted in the students creating some inspiring artwork that looked at it from a very different angle, compared to what we in mainstream healthcare tend to do. Below are just some of the images, and I will let them speak for themselves. You can see more of them on the website of the Moth Project at Falmouth University.

Theo Hallas: The Conversations Project

“My aim was to help those, whose loved ones are either terminally ill or reaching the end of their life. The posters are a prompt to encourage difficult conversations to happen before it is too late. To establish an understanding of the patient’s wishes and needs around issues such as Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR), which can be discussed and understood more fully to ensure that death, can be as peaceful and as respectful as possible.”

Alicia Bray-Whitworth, Jemma Edwardes, Sarah Lebaigue: Let’s Talk CPR – A campaign video to raise awareness of the effects of CPR

“Wanting to avoid isolating the audience with the graphic reality of what CPR can do to a fragile, terminally ill patient. We decided to tell our story using stop-frame animation; this gave us creative license to talk frankly about the issues. Using the rhythm of a heart beat with a calm, authoritative narration of the facts and statistics. We chose not to include any emotive background music, wanting to create space for a logical rational thought process to take place, making it easier to talk more openly about our hopes for our last moments.”

The Art and Medicine session at the Bevan Commission conference outlined the above work and showcased the creative results. It was a packed event,  chaired by distinguished Professor John Wyn Owen who, amongst many roles, is a professorial fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health. He introduced the topic of art and medicine, explaining that these were once considered to be unrelatable. I then outlined the work of Talk CPR and Falmouth University to the audience. The artwork was on display for all conference delegates to view and created much discussion. We heard from the audience how the arts can and should also be an agent for change. During the session, I learned about many other Welsh healthcare projects that need to incorporate such art, and it created a dialogue on how this can be done.

Summing up, Professor Wyn Owen outlined how the arts and humanities touch many people’s lives, encompassing those things that make life worth living, but also contributing to a country’s civilisation and enhancing the quality of health and wellbeing.

Thank you to the following students from Falmouth University who created artwork for this project:

The Plan: James Cook, Joe Arnold, Hannah Hosegood, Sam Baker.
Let’s Talk CPR: Alicia Bray-Whitworth, Jemma Edwardes, Sarah Lebaigue.
The Conversations Project: Theo Hallas.
Little questions, big conversations: Florentino  Alameda Monteiro, Poppy Andruskevicius, Adele Bright, Ellie Woodman.
#talkdeath: Martha Holmes, Lucy Scholes, Theo Penrice.

Their lecturers, Nikki Salkeld and Ashley Rudolph, made this project happen and are the driving force behind the Moth project at Falmouth University.


  • Follow Mark Taubert @DrMarkTaubert
  • Read more post in the Arts and Palliative Care series on the EAPC Blog.
This entry was posted in PATIENT & FAMILY CARE, The Arts in palliative care and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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