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Providing compassionate end of life care is a skill we all need

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Enabling people to live their lives exactly as they want – it’s more than the medication, it is something aside from treatment. Comfort? Peace of mind?

(Bereaved man in his sixties)

15 March this year marks World Social Work Day. This is an opportunity to think about how social work supports people around the world at all times of their lives. When someone is dying or bereaved, it is a really challenging point for those of us concerned for their wellbeing. Social work skills, knowledge and values are essential in supporting people to live until they die and to support people during periods of loss.

palliative care resourceThat’s why I am pleased to share a new resource with you. ‘The role of social workers in palliative, end of life and bereavement care’ was co-produced by social workers and people with lived experience of end of life care. It explains what all social workers can offer and highlights their important role in palliative care.

There are accounts of lived experience throughout the resource, such as the one quoted at the top of this blog. They remind us how essential it is that people who are dying and those close to them are at the centre of all that happens. A friend whose partner has recently died said ‘what you do has to be done with love.’ We need to be ready to work through this time with people and begin by asking them ‘what’s important to you?’

This is painful but privileged work. For me it is a rights issue; we need to ensure that everyone has access to the support they need. This resource sets out the capabilities that social workers need to make a difference to people who are experiencing loss, are dying or bereaved. There is a great deal we can offer as a profession. We must never be the ones who are too scared to discuss what people need because if we are, who else will?

holding hands - palliative careThe report published by Kings College London earlier this month on ‘The effectiveness of social work with adults’ highlighted palliative care as an area where people were very positive about the support social workers can provide. It also emphasised there was an unmet demand for palliative care social work. We need to integrate social work into end of life care and aim for true choice, quality and control for everyone at this time.

The resource sets out what is needed to make this happen. Social workers need to see end of life and bereavement care as an important part of their role. They can use the resource to identify the skills and knowledge they need to develop their confidence, but will need to be reflective and rely on the support of supervisors and managers for this work. Employers, leaders, commissioners and funders can also use it to identify how to build social work leadership for end of life care into their organisational structures.

Palliative care social workers can also use it to highlight their role and, as happens already in parts of the country, make contact with local social work teams to support and learn from one another. Educators can use it to think about how palliative care capabilities are covered in social work education and continuing professional development.

Palliative care social work is an important specialism across social work with adults, children and families. I hope we can strengthen this specialism and support all social workers to provide the best end of life care they can.

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