Access to Palliative Care Bill – how did the House of Lords respond?

Last Friday, the House of Lords debated Baroness Finlay’s Access to Palliative Care Bill. If passed, the Bill would effectively give everyone a right to receive high-quality palliative care, regardless of where they live.

One in four people in the UK don’t get the care and support they need at the end of their life, so the Access to Palliative Care Bill is a vital piece of legislation that could improve quality of life for many thousands of people with a terminal illness each year.

Find out more about palliative care

What happened during the debate?

In introducing the Bill, Baroness Finlay set out her case for why there should be legislation that would ensure high-quality care for people who are dying. The only certainty, she said, is that 100% of us will die and that nothing else in healthcare applies to 100% of the population.

This was backed up by many of the Lords who spoke and welcomed the Bill, often weaving in their own personal experiences and stories of a loved one dying. The mood in the House was one of support for the Bill, and many of the Lords also paid tribute to the doctors, nurses and other professionals who provide care and support to people who are dying.

The government’s opposition to the Bill was not unexpected, but was strikingly out of step with many of the speeches that had been made during the course of the debate. Lord Prior, speaking for the government, said that he felt that primary legislation was not the right way to improve access to palliative care.

He argued instead that local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) had been given powers by the Health and Social Care Act 2012 that should allow them to tackle the issue, and should be allowed time to do so.

Baroness Finlay responded that she was saddened by the Government’s position as she felt they were not even looking at ways to improve the situation.

Despite the government saying it would oppose the Bill, it did pass through to the committee stage, where it will be debated in further detail.

What happens next?

Though the Bill will move through to the committee stage, without government support it will likely be voted down upon reaching the House of Commons. This is a real shame and Baroness Finlay is justified in describing herself as saddened by the government’s response.

Lord Prior is adamant that local CCGs can and will tackle the crisis in access to palliative care. However, a report by Channel 5 based on freedom of information requests found that 45% of CCGs who responded had frozen or cut their end of life care budget for 2015-16.

Research by the National Council of Palliative Care found that only 43% of Health and Wellbeing Boards – the bodies that set direction for their local CCGs – include the needs of dying people in their strategies.

It is astounding that the government can be content to wait for CCGs to take action when one in four people don’t get the care and support they need at the end of their life and this is set to grow worse. As Baroness Finlay pointed out, dying is an issue that impacts on every single one of us. Surely this, if anything, is an issue that government should take action on.

How can you help?

Regardless of what happens to Baroness Finlay’s Bill, Marie Curie will keep campaigning to ensure that everyone has the right to palliative care when they need it, no matter where they live and what their personal circumstances are.

We know from the many messages we receive, like the two examples from our Facebook page below, that this is something our supporters and the general public feel very strongly about. This is why we’re calling for MPs for a further debate on palliative care in the House of Commons in November. If you agree, please contact your MP to ask them to support our call for a debate.