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Facing the future on the farm with advance care planning

ACP info for consumers Advance care planning ACP info for clinicians
30 March 2022

A screenshot of Thomas's calendar. He stands leaning against a fence with a cow behind him.Farmers in Aotearoa have to be prepared for anything – from the ever-changing weather to issues with stock, crops and machinery.  

With advance care planning they can also prepare themselves and their loved ones for any significant changes in their health.  

Rolleston farmer Thomas Mitchell is the face of April for the Health Quality & Safety Commission’s Kia whakarite: Be prepared advance care planning campaign and will be appearing in calendar posters around the motu.  

Thomas runs cattle, grazes horses and owns a business supplying steel cattle and sheep yards. He also has a young family (partner Jerrica and two-year-old son Carter) and is now turning his mind to how he might support them if something happened to him.  

‘I probably used to take some unnecessary risks when I was younger, but as I have got older and had a family, I realise they are in a whole lot of trouble if I get injured and am unable to work. I am a lot more careful now and have plans in place should I have a serious injury or illness,’ he said.  

You can download a PDF version of Thomas’s poster here or order physical copies by contacting acp@hqsc.govt.nz . 

About advance care planning 

Advance care planning is the process of thinking about, talking about and planning for future health care, including end-of-life care. It helps you, the important people in your life and your health care team understand what you want – especially if you can no longer speak for yourself. 

An advance care plan includes what is meaningful to you, your values and the ways you would like those caring for you to look after your spiritual and emotional needs. It can also cover whether you want to donate your organs, what sort of funeral you would like and where your important papers are. 

Free resources are available to help you with these conversations.  Go to the ‘consumer resources’ section of myacp.org.nz. 

A family affair  

Farming is in Thomas’s blood. He grew up on a farm near Timaru, went to university in Christchurch and now has his own family farm near Rolleston. 

‘I grew up on a farm and always loved being outside with Dad. I have always had a love of animals and enjoy working for myself rather than being in an office. Every day is different. There is a huge variety of tasks to do on a farm, which can make it overwhelming at times, but also provides great variation to my weeks,’ he said.  

Of course, farming has its challenges too, particularly in terms of demands on farmers’ time. ‘There is no such thing as annual leave. When you have animals, they still need to be cared for, no matter what day of the year it is. The weather also provides many challenges. It can be frustrating when you do everything right, but the weather just doesn’t play ball and there is nothing you can do about it. We have a lot of money tied up in our stock and it can be heart-breaking when the grass just won’t grow,’ he said.  

Thomas’s advice for those thinking of taking up farming is to give it a go. ‘It’s great work and a great lifestyle, but it’s certainly not for everyone. You need to be self-motivated, fit and work well by yourself.’  

Thomas stands in front of a stock pen and two caravans. He's wearing a brown hunting and fishing jacket.

'Given I work in a dangerous job, it is a distinct possibility that I may have an accident, so we need to be prepared for that'

The importance of being prepared  

Before his involvement with Kia whakarite, advance care planning was new to Thomas. Now it is something he sees as important for both him and his family.  

‘We are all going to die one day and many of us will face poor health before then, so it is important to be prepared. I’m only 32 so hopefully it is a way off yet.  

‘However, with a family now I am conscious that I am the breadwinner for our household. Given I work in a dangerous job, it is a distinct possibility that I may have an accident, so we need to be prepared for that.’  

Pushing through barriers   

Thomas has now started discussions about advance care planning with his family and thinks it is something people should talk about more.  

‘It’s the sensible thing to do and eliminates many difficult situations that could arise in the future,’ he said.  

It was natural that people were hesitant about discussing advance care planning, Thomas said.  

‘I suppose getting sick and dying isn’t something people like to think about too much.’ 

Openly publicising the need to discuss advance care planning in a light-hearted manner and having a simple, concise checklist of things to discuss and plan are good ways to do this, he said.  

Getting started with advance care planning 

Our free advance care planning resources are available here: 

The most important part of advance care planning is starting the conversation. Have discussions with friends and loved ones about the things that are important to you, so they understand your wishes and can tell your health care team if you are ever unable to. 

You can find the plan and supporting documents at myacp.org.nz or by contacting your local health provider. If you would like a hand filling out your plan, we have a list of regional contacts: 

Keep an eye out for more Kia whakarite Kiwis 

The advance care planning team is gathering stories from amazing people from all walks of life with all kinds of interests, from helicopter pilots to mixed martial arts fighters. We will share their stories for Kia whakarite each month. In May, rescue Stuart Cook will share his thoughts on the importance of advance care planning in his line of work.