EVEN for those who witness it in their daily work, death is always a difficult subject.

But Sobell House staff are experts in making sure patients are as comfortable as can be before they take their final breath.

Earlier this week the Oxford Mail featured the Headington hospice's new £2m hospital scheme, involving end-of-life care specialists tasked with helping patients at the John Radcliffe.

Among the team is Sam Edwards, a specialist nurse practitioner at Sobell, who said it helped to 'bridge the gap' between hospices and hospitals.

She said: "All nurses and doctors will be able to provide good palliative care, but we are there to support them."

Sobell staff have set up stalls in Oxford University Hospitals this week to raise awareness of Dying Matters; a campaign to encourage conversation about death and dying.

Miss Edwards, 26, said: "It's really important to have those conversations early and make sure family members know what your wishes are.

"[As a nurse] death and dying isn't something you ever get used to, but it's such a privilege to look after someone at the end of their life. It's very rewarding."

Sobell House cares for 400 inpatients each year, many of whom are coming to the end of their life.

Miss Edward's colleague in the same team, palliative care consultant Aoife Lowney, said the scheme helped to promote good communication and a 'holistic' approach to patients' care.

She said: "We have a lot of family meetings and spend time talking to them about the condition and their preferred place of care. "We make sure patients aren't undergoing treatments that are non-beneficial and will diminish their quality of life.

"It's helpful to be able to talk openly about fears and worries. For a lot of patients, talking about their illness enhances their hope rather than diminishes it. We never use that phrase 'there's nothing we can do' - even when there is no cure, there is always something that can be done."

Dr Lowney said Dying Matters Week was important because it raises awareness of 'an internationally recognised need for a public health approach to death and dying'.

She said: "We need a culture shift so that talking about it isn't taboo. For people who openly talk about it, hopefully when they lose somebody they will not feel alone. They will be more knowledgeable about the impact of loss and where to find information on things like bereavement support.

"Getting the conversation started means people are more likely to make wills and donate organs, and that's amazing. It can make the best of a very difficult time for families if those conversations have happened.

"People often do an enormous amount of living when they are diagnosed - that's what palliative care is all about. It's more about living than about dying."