Many Swedes still die alone
A recent Swedish Radio investigation, based on the Swedish Palliative Registry, has found that roughly 16% of people who hospitals or care centres believe are nearing the end of their lives die alone. The figure has not changed in the past five years.
In some places, that number is higher, for example, in the surgical ward of Västerås Hospital, where 43 out of 98 people the hospital believed to be approaching death died alone.
Twenty years ago, Parliament decided that end-of-life care should be of a high quality and that no-one should have to die alone, but this has proven difficult to realize for a variety of reasons. Some experts cite a lack of time or financial resources, while others cite a lack of palliative care education.
Stockholm's Danderyd Hospital is one of the few hospitals in Sweden to recruit former medical professionals as volunteers to help out with basic end-of-life care. Dr. Charlotte Thålin initiated this scheme six years ago, through the Red Cross.
The volunteers' main task is to be an alternative to relatives and friends. They do not do any practical tasks, they just sit, hold a hand, sometimes they sing and they listen.
Dr. Inger Fridegren, president of the National Council for Palliative Care, explained that a minority of people actually want to die alone. She believes the main problem facing Swedish palliative care is poor training, rather than a lack of resources.
Thålin, however, insisted it is a matter of doctors and nurses not having enough time to sit with patients – something the volunteers can provide. She is now hoping that other hospitals across Sweden will introduce similar programmes.