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Dying Matters Awareness Week: Talking about death and end of life planning doesn't have to be taboo

By Hannah Wall, a specialist asbestos-related disease solicitor at Irwin Mitchell

Each year, hospices, health trusts, charities and other organisations get involved in Dying Matters Awareness Week which is under way. 

The awareness campaign continues to focus on the importance of ensuring that talk about dying, grief and end of life planning is no longer a taboo, but seen as an open and honest conversation.

Supporting people at the end of their life

As specialist mesothelioma solicitors, representing individuals and their families affected by this terminal asbestos cancer, we recognise the importance of our clients talking about death and their end of life plans.

I recently represented Mrs Gilley in a claim regarding her late husband’s diagnosis and later death as a result of mesothelioma.

Mr Gilley was diagnosed with mesothelioma in the spring of 2020, during some of the strictest coronavirus restrictions in the UK. This meant that Mr Gilley had to attend medical appointments alone, at a time of learning of the terminal condition and its likely impact upon him and his family. It hardly bears thinking about, but was a situation experienced by many families up and down the country.

Asbestos exposure

Mr Gilley grew up in Essex and worked as an electrician after securing an apprenticeship once he left school. It was during his employment as an electrician, that he was exposed to asbestos. As was the experience of many trades people in those days, Mr Gilley was required to drill through asbestos ceiling tiles using a hand drill, in order to fit new lighting. The drilling process caused Mr Gilley to be covered in asbestos dust.  

Following his diagnosis, Mr Gilley became increasingly unwell and spent a lot of time in and out of hospital meaning that he was unable to see his family, as a result of the coronavirus restrictions that were in place at the time.

Hospices provide invaluable help

On 7 October, 2020, Mr Gilley was admitted to Saint Francis Hospice in Essex. The hospice put a visiting plan in place and importantly discussed with Mr Gilley and his family the plans for the end of his life and provided invaluable support to the family throughout, whilst also providing excellent care to Mr Gilley, monitoring his pain, to make him as comfortable as possible during the final days of his life.

The doctor at the hospice sat down with the family and spoke about what would be the best option for Mr Gilley. They were very honest about the position and it was agreed that the hospice was the best place for him to spend the final days of his life.

Mrs Gilley said in relation to Mr Gilley’s hospice care: “While at the hospice, I tended to just be with him. It was great to just be with him and not have to focus on his physical care. We were given a private room so we had privacy while we said goodbye to him as a family. 

"The hospice made us feel understood and seen through an incredibly difficult time for us all. I cannot fault the treatment we received by Saint Francis Hospice, they were fantastic." 

Sadly, Mr Gilley died, while in the hospice on 4 November, 2020.

Recovering costs for hospice 

After his death, Mrs Gilley continued to pursue the legal claim, against Mr Gilley’s former employers on his behalf. The case settled in early March 2022. Irwin Mitchell was successful in securing a total of £13,429.57 of hospice costs, as part of the settlement. These funds were returned to the hospice, in order to support many more palliative patients and their families in the future with their plans for end of life.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's work in supporting people and families affected by mesothelioma and other illnesses at our dedicated asbestos-related disease section.

The awareness day continues to focus on the importance of ensuring that talk about dying, grief and end of life planning is no longer a taboo, but seen as an open and honest conversation.”