People from across North East Essex are being encouraged to talk openly about death and share their favourite poem as part of a national campaign designed to break down taboos and make dying well part of a good life.

GPs from NE Essex clinical commissioning group (CCG) are encouraging people of all ages to start planning for their futures in the run up to Dying Matters awareness week, which begins on Monday (13 May).

The drive supports the campaign by St Helena which aims to raise awareness of the importance of putting plans in place early and talk about the ‘elephant in the room’, hence the elephant campaign imagery. Called ‘My Care Choices’ it encourages people to talk about death and make a record of their preferences by completing the ‘My Care Choices Record’, which details the care they would like to receive in the future, including if they wish, their priorities for care at the end of life.

This can include, but is not limited to their preferred place of care, who they would like to be contacted, as well as medical details and information about resuscitation.

The week also comes in response to statistics which show that nearly one in three people are not comfortable discussing dying with friends and family, while only 35% have written a will. In addition, just 7% of people have documented their end of life preferences, which is the only way of making sure they receive care in line with their wishes if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves.

Dr Karen Chumbley, GP, and Clinical Director for St Helena, said: “Many people find it hard to talk about death and dying, and it remains one of the biggest taboos in our society.

“It is time we talked about death. We will all die, yet we fail to prepare. Grief is hard anyway, without having the trauma of trying to guess your loved one’s last wishes. This awareness week gives us a real opportunity to start the conversation and recognise that preparing for death is our right, and can also help empower our families by ensuring we leave a positive legacy behind.

“We want to encourage people to talk openly about dying and plan ahead so that they can make the right choices about end of life care, where they want to die and their plans for their funeral. Talking about death won’t bring it closer – but sharing our wishes well in advance will make it easier for our loved ones when we do reach the end of our lives.”

During the week, people will be given the chance to share their favourite poem on the theme of loss, bereavement and end of life, via social media. The NE Essex Alliance partners will be sharing poems picked by local people with first-hand experience of death and dying to encourage others to start the conversation.