Professor Fliss Murtagh
In March 2017, Fliss Murtagh began a Professorship at Hull York Medical School based in the new Wolfson Palliative Care Research Centre. We interviewed Fliss to learn more about her career and her thoughts about palliative care…
What have been the highlights and challenges of your career?
I think one of the highlights of my career was getting into the study of end stage kidney disease, because I like to listen to the people who don’t have a voice, and give them a voice. When I first went and did interviews with people who had end stage kidney disease they were mostly elderly. Some very elderly, 104 for example, but they hadn’t been heard by professionals when they should have been. I was then able to use some of that evidence and other work to illustrate the needs of that population, which was a big highlight for me. Challenges? Trying to fit everything into a 24 hour day!
What experiences or which people have influenced your career the most?
There are lots of people really. I would say there are 2 people at the top of the list. When I worked in the Heart of Kent Hospice, there was a Consultant called Gordon Titmus, who was very impressive. He inspired me to really get interested in palliative medicine, because he did such a good job communicating with patients, families and staff.
He always managed to get to the heart of whatever the issue was and communicate a way forward and that was quite impressive. So he was one big influence. And the other is Irene Higginson. Because I have learnt such a lot from her; she has achieved so much and is so very skilled in how she does it, and that has always been very impressive to me.
What are the top 3 issues affecting the provision of palliative care for all people approaching the end of life?
First, the fact that it is considered an added extra rather than an essential part of care. So ideally palliative and supportive care shouldn’t need to exist, it should be part of routine standard care for everyone with all types of illness. But it isn’t.
Secondly, the fact that there are so many competing priorities for resources – people, money and time. We live in a health system that prioritises acute disease-management interventions over caring interventions. Probably rightly. But it’s a shame that we don’t get the acute interventions and care both at the same time.
The third big challenge is the changing demographics and the rising numbers of people needing palliative care. We’ve only just begun to see that change. And over the next 10 years it will have a big impact.