Improving serious illness conversations and shared decision-making for paramedics

Project leads: Dr Nikki Pease, Consultant in Palliative Medicine and Mr Ed O’Brian, End of Life Care Lead, Welsh Ambulance Service

Participants: Dr Jo Hayes, Dr Ed Presswood

Velindre NHS Trust and Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust


This Bevan Exemplar project trained ambulance clinicians in end of life conversations to enable shared decision making.


Patients and relatives are frequently dissatisfied about communication at the end of life (The 2015 Parliamentary Ombudsman report on death and dying). At the heart of this dissatisfaction is a lack of information, such that patients and relatives are ill-informed regarding expectation and choice at the end of life. This mismatch in expectation often results in the ambulance service being called.


This project aims to improve end-of-life care and communication by providing training on three main aspects:

  1. Serious illness conversation/communication skills.

2. Symptom control at the end of life (which includes recognition that a patient is likely to be at the end of life) and administration of medications to improve symptom control.

3. ‘Shared decision making’, whereby an experienced physician (usually from primary care or palliative medicine) would provide telephone advice/support to paramedics at the patient’s home.

In excess of 500 ambulance staff received face-to-face training. The project had an ‘all-Wales’ remit and sought to deliver consistent, evidence-based practice across the nation.

Ambulance clinicians were trained according to the same syllabus and by a core group of trainers with support from local palliative care teams, to ensure that there will ultimately be continued local ownership.


Challenges identified and where possible, addressed during the project included:


The key outcomes of the project have been:

1. 16% reduction in patients conveyed to the emergency department and therefore remaining at home.

2. 30% increase in shared decision making (usually between paramedic and GP/ Palliative Medicine Physician).

3. 8% increase in End of life medicines being administered by paramedics

Graph 1: Ambulance staff self-assessment of confidence in breaking bad news pre- and post-teaching – n= 649 pre teaching and 632 post teaching

Graph 2: Ambulance staff self-assessment of confidence in discussing advance care planning pre and post teaching – n= 326 pre teaching and 313 post teaching

Line graphs showing confidence levels of ambulance staff in breaking bad news and good news

The overall outcome is hoped to be Improved patient choice, improved support for family members and therefore their bereavement; better symptom control and ultimately a ‘good death’.

Next steps

The project and programme of teaching continues with teaching dates set for 2019. The project team has become involved in Future Care Planning projects throughout Wales to ensure ‘joined up’ working across care sectors, to ensure future care planning starts earlier in a patient’s journey and that a patient’s choices are transferred to the community setting, e.g. use of ‘message in a bottle’. The project and its results have also been shared in a peer-reviewed journal, and the team is also working to ensure UK Ambulance Services Clinical Practice Guidelines are amended to include information on ‘Shared decision making and medication at the end of life’.

“Within a supportive environment we were given an excellent opportunity to learn more, to create and ultimately raise the profile of our project.”

Nikki Pease

Part of cohort Bevan Exemplar Projects 2017-18