Hilda was 42 years old, had three sons and died of a glioblastoma on an early morning in spring. In those days I was a young GP and Hilda was my first palliative patient. This experience was in many ways decisive, both enriching and confronting at the same time. It got under my skin. At the same time it was painfully clear to me that I was poorly trained and not properly skilled, that my education as a physician had not prepared me for this, and that, more in general, our healthcare system was neither interested nor equipped to care for people with a limited life expectancy.
Over the next years, many things changed. I started working as a palliative physician in a palliative centre with eight beds, in a day care centre and with a home care team and I gradually got more involved in the early stages of development of a palliative structure in my country. There was so much to do, and obviously, in a few decades’ time, palliative care became a more broadly accepted and better-organised part of our health system.
However, still very much remains to be done. Education in palliative care for health professionals is largely insufficient and the scientific anchoring of palliative care remains a big challenge. Early involvement of palliative care, before the terminal phase, involvement in any setting, in any disease or condition and not only cancer, involvement of palliative care for vulnerable groups in our society – all of these topics are goals that are still very far from having been reached. Our society is changing, the ethical landscape in our society is diverse, and palliative care has to define and realise its key values in a continuously evolving environment. Palliative care remains structurally underfinanced, and it still is not a full and equal part of our health care alongside prevention and curative treatment.
On a closing note, what do I believe I can offer the European Association for Palliative Care?
To begin with, there’s my broad bedside experience as I am still involved with palliative patients, on a daily basis. Additionally, there’s my knowledge of the governance of a non-profit organisation as I have been president of the Federation of Palliative Care Flanders for the past six years, Flanders being one of the three regions in Belgium. This might help to bridge to other associations, to the French- speaking part of Europe and to advocate for palliative care being so near to the European headquarters in Brussels. I also have many years of experience in training in palliative care, in developing guidelines, in involvement with the ongoing ethical debate about end-of-life care. In many ways, palliative care can be considered as the care of the future. What I therefore most of all hope to bring to the EAPC, is my passion for its further development.