National Palliative Care Week: 'It takes a village'

Friday, May 24, 2019

We’re seeing out the final day of National Palliative Care Week 2019 with a look at the importance of supporting the bereaved after a loved one has died.

A project to upgrade Princess Alexandra Hospital’s mortuary viewing room resulted in sweeping changes to the way the hospital conducts viewings. Angela Tonge, Advanced Social Worker, Critical Care and Trauma, explains: “During an accreditation process, the surveyors said [the viewing room] had to be fixed.” She said the newly renovated room now offers “a warm and dignified space; which is what the literature and families have told us is important to people during the emotional process of a viewing. It is a difficult thing to evaluate but the feedback from families has been very positive, with staff, surveyors and funeral directors also commenting.”

To further improve the experience for families and loved ones of a deceased patient, Angela then re-wrote the procedure on mortuary viewing management at the PA based on best practice standards. “In a number of hospitals, supporting bereaved family members to view the body of their relative is recognised as a critical role for social workers. Grief and bereavement and care at end of life needs sensitive handling and may provoke powerful and complicated emotions and reactions, so they needed to have an understanding of that, and the processes for afterwards.”

Education with an embedded simulation was provided for all social workers across the state, but they were not the only ones. "Anyone who plays a part in a consumer’s bereavement journey, from anatomical pathology assistants, to operational officers, laundry services and clinicians need a consistent and sound approach. Social workers feel very strongly about this but there was a strong realisation that it takes a village to support families at the end of a patient’s life,” Angela said.

Anne-Louise McCawley from the Statewide Social Work and Welfare Clinical Education Program said “from an education perspective, it was demystifying for social workers what it was like to engage in these processes. In the short simulation, Angela was unpacking why she did what she did, the backstory, how she might approach families and walk them through it. These tips have then become really important in making people feel comfortable to do this now.”

Empowered by the training and expanded scope, social workers from across the hospital are now able to perform viewings and support the bereaved in a warm, respectful, patient and family centred environment.

For more information on care at end of life:

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Last updated: 24 May 2019