End-of-life care 'requires major overhaul'

Close-up of couple holding hands while in hospitalThe UK's care system for dying patients is lacking and needs a major overhaul, says a damning new report.

Each year, more than 100,000 terminally ill people who would benefit from end-of-life care are not getting it, according to a report from the London School of Economics. Patients are missing out on the support they need and many are left without sufficient pain relief and respite.

Certain groups of patients are more likely to go without the help they need due to inequalities in access to good care, say researchers. Those most likely to miss out include the over 85s, people living on their own, people living in deprived areas and black, Asian and ethnic minority groups.

The report suggests that the problem is only set to worsen in future due to the ageing population and increased demand for end-of-life care.

Most palliative care is given to cancer patients, even though the diseases account for less than a third of deaths. Just one in five new referrals to specialist end-of-life services are currently for patients with non-cancer diagnoses.

Commissioned by the charity Marie Curie, the report suggests that offering palliative care to those that need it could improve the quality of life for thousands of patients and save the NHS money by preventing unwanted and distressing hospital treatment.

According to the authors, net potential savings are more than £30m in England, at least £2m in Wales, more than £1m in Northern Ireland and more than £4m in Scotland.

When 500 health professionals who care for terminally-ill patients were surveyed in a separate MORI poll, most reported insufficient funding and staffing to provide the level of care needed.

Dr Bee Wee, national clinical director for end-of-life care at NHS England, told the BBC: "NHS England is committed to ensuring that all patients get the support and services they need towards the end of life."

Dr Jane Collins, chief executive of Marie Curie, said: "Everyone affected by terminal illness should have access to all the care and support they need, regardless of their personal circumstances. This report shows that this is not the case, and some groups are getting a worse deal than others. We don't think this is good enough."

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