Social work’s expanding role in ‘the good death’ .

With Jo McIlveen and the SESLHD social work interns
With Jo McIlveen and the SESLHD social work interns

I shared ideas last Thursday around dying well with social work interns, who are learning by developing a public health approach to palliative care. During our session we discussed some troubling stories and how the intern’s positive input could help change some sad, yet avoidable hospital scenarios.

This was part of the course the interns are doing on the ‘Public Health Approach to Palliative Care’.

This approach says: “It is absolutely crucial that communities are involved in their own health and wellbeing and this must include their multiple experiences of death, dying, loss and care,” says Public Health Care International.

“A population health approach in palliative care requires engagement in community wide activities that promote death education and community support at the end of life to the widest public in society,” it says.

Thank you to Jo McIlveen who created this opportunity for me and the South Eastern Sydney Health District’s Social Work Palliative Care and Bereavement interns.

I shared the story, again, of Jane – who died in hospital three weeks after routine surgery, without receiving appropriate palliative care. Those attending to her didn’t recognise that she was dying, even though she believed she was and her daughter was becoming increasingly anxious about the possibility. The recognition of what was really happening to Jane should have begun well before she got to hospital.

These events played out in January 2022. And while Jane’s death happened more than a year ago, her family are still grieving intensely, their grief aggravated by the circumstances of Jane’s death.

Avoiding scenarios like Jane’s starts by ensuring communities have the social resources to manage death. It involves shedding preconceptions about the patient and it involves plugging some of the current gaps in communication between nursing homes and hospitals.

Death is something we will all do. So its management belongs to all of us.


For more on the Public Health Palliative Care approach, go to:

Read also: Dying is a big experience, and only a small part is medical.

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