Centre for Death & Society

Dying Well After a Long Life


Principal Investigator: Tony Walter

Partners:  Prof Jenny Kitzinger, University of Cardiff (CI), Dr Liz Lloyd, University of Bristol (CI), Dr Kerry Jones, University of Exeter (CI)

Funder: GW4 Initiator


Project rationale and aims

Departmental themes

The most common age at death in England and Wales in 2010 was 85 for men and 89 for women;  the number of older people dying will increase in the next 30 years as the ‘baby boomers’ enter their 80’s. Yet older people nearing the end of life (EoL) receive poorer health and social care and palliative care - a failure of philosophy, policy and politics as well as of practice.

Following the National Service Framework for Older People, government rhetoric has shifted towards ‘successful ageing’ and promoting independence, a rhetoric embraced by fit third agers. However, this neglects many older people struggling each day with deteriorating physical and mental capacities. In health policy, the DoH’s EoL Care Strategy has been led by palliative care, whose knowledge base is cancer rather than the multiple morbidities facing many elderly people. The Strategy’s neo-liberal assumption of an autonomous individual freely choosing how to live out a fairly predictable EoL period is problematic for many older people with unclear dependency trajectories and/or less than full mental capacity. Research agendas have largely been driven by current policies, yet scandals such as Mid-Staffs, the Liverpool Care Pathway, the collapse of Southern Cross, and social care funding reveal a policy failure to enable good deaths at the end of long lives.

Radically new thinking is required to drive innovative research that can inform philosophy, policy and practice, not only for the frail elderly but also for any with high dependency and mental incapacity who cannot die as free and active agents.

The original objectives of the project were to identify, re Dying Well at the End of a Long Life:-

  1. key issues for research
  2. 2 or 3 possible projects for development, alongside possible funders
  3. additional personnel from both within and external to the GW4 network who would enhance these developments
  4. how the group could develop, including mechanisms for this.

Project outputs and impacts

Meetings were held between:

  1. The four University leads 
  2. Interested parties within each Univeristy
  3. The whole network

This final plenary meeting was outstandingly successful in that a programme of linked research projects was envisaged that members are passionate about and that have considerable potential to challenge and inform future UK EoL policy. The topic has expanded to include those dying with reduced capacity at whatever age, and this has offered exciting potential for comparative research comparing people with dementia, with learning difficulties, in coma, etc.

The meeting led to two further bids to the GW4, firstly for a Collaboration Lifecycle grant to enable a facilitated meeting with the aim of honing our aims and objectives, and secondly for an Accelerator Grant to further our capacity building and gear us towards submitting a large funding bid in 2015/16. Both bids were successfully funded.

Members of the GW4 'Dying Well' Community - January 2015

University of Bath: Dr Jeremy Dixon, Dr Chris Ecclestone, Dr Michelle Farr, Beatrice Godwin, Prof Malcolm Johnson, Caron Staley, Denise Taylor, Dr Paula Smith
University of Bristol Bristol:Prof Karen Forbes, Prof Randall Smith
University of Cardiff: Dr Sally Anstey, Prof Danny Kelly, Julie Latchem, Dr Sara McBride-Stewart, Dr Sofia Vougioukalou.
University of Exeter:Dr Hannah Rumble
External: Die-alog Dorset: Dr Max Mackay-James

The community has expanded greatly since the initial meetings.

Find out more about this project

Name: Mrs Caron Staley
Title: Institute Manager
Department: Dept of Computer Science
Location: Virgil Building 3.28
E-mail: c.staley@bath.ac.uk
Phone: work+44 (0) 1225 386275