Condolence letters 'too demanding', says DHB

KELSEY FLETCHER
Last updated 07:39 09/12/2013

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A scheme to help families cope with bereavement in Whanganui will not be mimicked at MidCentral District Health Board due to the number of deaths and because the process would be too demanding.

Whanganui District Health Board sends out more than 150 personalised condolence letters, offering support and information, every year.

Director of nursing Sandy Blake said the approach to helping families cope with death came about in 2010 after Whanganui District Health Board wanted to offer bereaved relatives the chance to ask questions.

"As far as we know, we are the only DHB that does this particular process, others might do bits of it," she said. "So often, when a person is dying in our care, there is a lot of frenetic activity going on with doctors and nurses involved and they are concentrating on the patient.

"The family is sitting nearby and watching all the activity and suddenly when the patient dies and it's over . . . all the doctors and nurses have finished their activity and the patient moves on and out of the hospital to be buried."

Ms Blake said the health board realised families would often have unanswered questions. "So that got us thinking how to offer support to families after the death."

MidCentral District Health Board patient safety and clinical effectiveness director Muriel Hancock said condolence letters had been considered in the past, but not put into use. "MidCentral District Health Board has, on average, 400 deaths per year, in its hospitals, including those at both Palmerston North Hospital and Horowhenua Health Centre, in addition to deaths that may occur while the patient is in the care of community-based or outpatient services," she said.

"This would be a very challenging process to manage in terms of numbers, ensuring the next of kin information is current, given that the relationship with the patient and/or family in many cases is very brief."

Ms Hancock said the health board was not aware of any feedback from families about the need for this type of communication.

Whanganui District Health Board customer relations and complaints co-ordinator Sue Penfold said more than 500 letters had been sent to bereaved families since the approach began in June 2010.

"People ring and thank us for the letter and say their loved one received really good care and they want us to pass on the sentiments," she said.

"A number of people ring because they do have questions and we can arrange to have the family meet with the person who reviewed the death and the lead clinical person who was looking after them."

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- Manawatu Standard

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