Ombudsman says families need to know how to care for dying

Oireachtas committee told medical staff need communication skills to deal with bereaved

 Ombudsman Peter Tyndall:   “I recognise this very much and respect the hospitals and the staff that provide a wonderful standard of care.”  Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall: “I recognise this very much and respect the hospitals and the staff that provide a wonderful standard of care.” Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 20:51

Many people would prefer to die at home and their families often agreed, but carers might by left without the support they needed to manage, Ombudsman Peter Tyndall told politicians yesterday.

Outlining the main points of the Ombudsman’s Office report A Good Death, Mr Tyndall said that as Ombudsman he had received complaints relating to cases where people dying in hospitals had received poor treatment.

In some cases, he said, the patient was denied the peaceful and dignified death hoped for, while in others, families and friends were traumatised by the events surrounding the death of a loved one and suffered a prolonged and traumatic grieving process as a result.

He said that in some of the cases mentioned in the report, families complained they were not fully informed about the patient’s condition. Sometimes when the complaints were examined, it was found that the patient had explicitly wished to keep this information private. The hospital staff did the right thing in respecting these wishes, but families were left very upset and sometimes angry, he added.

Mr Tyndall was addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. He said if there was one common thread running throughout the complaints in the report, it was related to communication. He recalled how one woman understood that her husband’s cancer “was gone”, as she put it, following chemotherapy. This was not what was said by the medical consultant but that was what she believed.

In another case, a man believed he had hastened his mother’s death by agreeing to a “do not resuscitate” order.

Referring to the care and training of “heroic” carers, Mr Tyndall recalled how one family brought their 85-year-old mother home.

They were not told how to administer morphine, there was confusion over how it was to be sourced and they had to call out a GP in the middle of the night to help their mother with her pain. It was a bad experience for the woman and left a crippling memory for her daughters, he said.

Another woman who had experienced problems when she brought her mother home to die pointed out that it took many years for doctors and nurses to qualify. “It is only fair that carers would be offered the relevant information before they are required to manage the final stage of terminal illness and the death of the person they love.”owever, he added, in “the vast majority of cases”, patients and their families and friends received the professional and humane service they expected. “I recognise this very much and respect the hospitals and the staff that provide a wonderful standard of care,” Mr Tyndall said.