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Soc Sci Med. 2011 Nov;73(9):1371-7. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.07.036. Epub 2011 Sep 1.

Dying cases in emergency places: caring for the dying in emergency departments.

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  • 1University of Birmingham, Nursing and Physiotherapy, 52 Pritchatts road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, United Kingdom.


In an ageing society, like the UK, where long-term illness dominates healthcare, there has been a change in the way that the end-of-life is approached and experienced. Advancing technology, inadequate knowledge and inconsistency in palliative care services have complicated the ability to recognise imminent dying and many people access emergency services at the end-of-life. Drawing on ethnographic research exploring end-of-life care in one large Emergency Department (ED), the authors examine the spaces of dying and death, which are created in a place designed to save life, and not necessarily to provide supportive and palliative care. Despite the high need for attention in an emergency crisis, this study shows that the approach taken to care for someone at the end-of-life, and consequently the space in which they are cared for, often falls short of the expectations of the dying patient and their relatives. It is argued that the dying body is seen as dirty and polluted in the sterile, controlled, clinical environment and is therefore 'matter out of place'. Attempts are made to conceal or remove the dying patient, the bereaved relatives and the deceased body protecting the natural order of the ED. Consequently, the individual supportive and palliative care needs of the dying are often overlooked. This paper highlights the needs of patients as death nears in the ED and argues that the critical decisions made in the ED have a significant impact on the quality of care experienced by patients, who spend the last few hours of their life there.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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