SCOTLAND is a nation of people reluctant to talk about death, with doubts about the ability of the NHS to provide good care at the end of life, research suggests.
A poll conducted for Marie Curie Cancer Care found that many people were confused about the services available to those with a terminal illness.
The research came as the charity launched its annual Great Daffodil Appeal to allow Marie Curie nurses to provide more free care to people approaching the end of their lives.
The charity’s research found that there appeared to be some emotional obstacles to improving end-of-life care in the UK.
Nearly three-quarters (71 per cent) of Scots believed people did not talk enough about dying or death. Almost half (45 per cent) admitted they felt uncomfortable talking about death.
Concerns were also raised about the standards of care terminally ill patients may receive.
A third (33 per cent) of Scots doubted that the NHS would provide good-quality care to them or a loved one who was dying, compared to 57 per cent who were confident about the quality of NHS end-of-life care.
But the issue was high on the agenda of those questioned, with 81 per cent agreeing that end-of-life care should be more of a priority for the NHS.
There was also low public awareness and understanding about services and support available to the terminally ill. Only 50 per cent said they would know where to turn for practical support if they or a family member were terminally ill.
Dr David Oxenham, clinical director at Marie Curie Cancer Care, said: “We know the provision of good-quality end-of-life care varies greatly and that people often struggle to make sense of decisions about care.
“This has been clearly reflected in these results, with people being confused about who they can turn to. We are working closely with policy-makers and health professionals in Scotland, and across the UK, to ensure that they understand the real need and provision for people who are nearing the end of their lives.”
Dr Oxenham said evidence showed that the charity’s nursing service improved care for terminally ill patients, making it possible for more people to die at home while reducing emergency hospital visits.
“However, we know that the taboo surrounding talking about death is still preventing people getting the end-of-life care they need, and want,” he said.
“Broaching the subject isn’t easy but it’s the best possible way to ensure people’s end-of-life preferences are met.
“We should be supporting patients and their families to make choices about what they want and providing care outside hospital to enable people who are dying to be secure, safe and comfortable.”
Clare Brodie’s grandfather passed away in March 2012 after time in a Marie Curie hospice.
Ms Brodie said: “When the Marie Curie Hospice at Fairmilehead [in Edinburgh] was first mentioned as an option for my grandpa’s last few days, I was worried about the quality of care he might receive.
“I just didn’t know what to expect.
“I can happily say, however, that the care my grandpa received there was exceptional.”