Intended for healthcare professionals


Sara Booth: palliative care consultant and expert on breathlessness

BMJ 2022; 379 doi: (Published 15 November 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;379:o2738
  1. Penny Warren
  1. Salisbury, UK
  1. warrenpenny788{at}
Credit: Nick Cox

When Sara Booth, who has died aged 63, was a registrar at St Christopher’s Hospice in 1989, specialist help was available for people living with chronic pain. The vast numbers with frightening intractable breathlessness (dyspnoea), however, were less fortunate and largely had to soldier on alone. Booth, described by a colleague as “the most passionate advocate for this unsung, unseen, unsexy, invisible topic” became globally renowned for her ground breaking work in relieving breathlessness, and for her prescient views on the holistic nature of good palliative care.

Academic rigour underpinned her approach. Asked to write a paper on breathlessness and finding little evidence, in 1989 Booth set up a randomised controlled trial at St Christopher’s, giving oxygen or air from disguised cylinders. She found ordinary air to be just as effective as oxygen, with the key to easier breathing being the sensation of air flowing across the face. From this, she recommended patients use handheld fans. Widely available and simple to operate, they gave people the confidence to resume activities and, as a result of her work, fans are now routinely recommended for breathlessness.

When Booth moved in 1991 to Sobell House Hospice in Oxford as …

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