Healthy End of Life Project (HELP): a progress report on implementing community guidance on public health palliative care initiatives in Australia

Andrea Grindrod, Bruce Rumbold


Background: Contemporary end of life care policies propose increasing community capacity by developing sustainable skills, policies, structures, and resources to support members of a community in caring for each other at the end of life. Public health approaches to palliative care provide strategies to bring this about. Practical implementation can however be ineffective, principally due to failures to grasp the systemic nature of public health interventions, or to ensure that programs are managed and owned by community members, not the professionals who may have introduced them. This article outlines a comprehensive community development project that identifies local end of life needs and meets them through the efficient use of community resources.
Methods: The project is the product of a three-phase enquiry. The first phase, carried out in a local community, examined carers’ experiences of home-based dying, the networks that supported them during care, and broader community networks with the potential to extend care. Data were collected through in-depth research interviews, focus groups and consultation with a community research reference group. Findings were key issues to be targeted by a local community development strategy. In the second phase, these local findings were compared with other practice accounts to identify themes common to many contexts. A public health palliative care framework was then used to produce an evidence-informed community development model for end of life care. The third phase involves implementing and evaluating this model in different Australian contexts.
Results: A major theme emerging in phase one of the enquiry was the reluctance of carers to ask for, or even accept, offers of help from family, friends and community networks despite their evident need for support while providing end of life care at home. Others’ willingness to provide support was thus hindered by uncertainty about what to offer, and concern about infringing on people’s privacy. To develop community capacity for providing end of life care, these social norms need to change. Phase two brought public health strategies to bear on the themes identified in phase one to develop the Healthy End of Life Project (HELP), a strengths-based sustainable community development project. This provides evidence-based and research-informed resources that equip communities to work cooperatively with carers, family, friends and neighbors in support of residents wishing to receive end-of-life care in their home or a community setting. Services may initiate use of the framework, and will share their expertise on health and death matters, but communities are the experts to lead implementation in their local area. The third part of the article outlines current initiatives to implement and evaluate HELP in several Australian contexts.
Conclusions: The substantive outcome of this enquiry is the ‘Healthy End of Life Project (HELP); offering and providing, asking and accepting help’.