Welsh Baroness and Professor, Illora Finlay, believes dignity is about having a sense of personal worth.
“We all have dignity and we all know when it is taken away from us,” she says. “It is taken away by the way we are treated.”
Professor Finlay (pictured), who gave a keynote address to delegates at the Palliative Care Victoria biennial conference in Melbourne last week, highlighted the important role palliative care specialists play in helping maintain the dignity of their patients.
“Please remember: if you’re a clinician with a set of invaluable skills, never lose your diagnostic nose. There is good evidence to suggest we prolong active life – we don’t shorten people’s lives,” she says.
She encourages clinicians to “keep [their] clinical skills honed”, describing this as the “root to good diagnosis”.
“That is the root to getting prescriptions and management right – you need good diagnostic skills. Palliative care is not a cook book; it’s about using every skill in your tool box.”
Professor Finlay is regarded for her clinical, policy and service development leadership in palliative care and health services in the UK. She has had a key involvement in the development of the End of Life Care Strategy in the UK.
According to Professor Finlay, people – especially baby boomers – feel the need to control everything in life.
“But they need to understand, nobody says ‘I am now ready to have my cancer’. That’s just not the world we live in and tragedy strikes out of the blue at the most unexpected times. The reality is we can’t control things and we should probably stop pretending we can.”
She shares with delegates the end of life strategy implemented in Wales, highlighting the importance of developing key objectives for remaining patient-focused and funding for core services.
Importantly, she claims it is a “real worry” when palliative care specialist services ask to receive paper referrals, saying they’ll “discuss it” to determine whether a service can be provided to the patient.
“You cannot judge unless you assess a person face to face. You cannot judge on a piece of paper and you should not take someone’s assessment as gospel.
She puts it simply: “Everybody is going to die”.
“We just don’t know when and we really don’t know what of – even though we may think we know.
“That flame that goes down and comes up again…. that fluctuating wish to live and to die and all those switching emotions is part of the process. And we need to ask, ‘are the services we provide good enough for our mums?’
“And if it’s not good enough, then it’s not good enough for anybody else either,” she says.