Health Select Committee report highlights the challenges we face to improve care for people with a terminal illness

by Scott Sinclair
Policy and Public Affairs Manager, England

Scott Sinclair, Policy and Public Affairs ManagerOn Sunday 15 March, the Health Select Committee published its report on end of life care, following a short inquiry earlier this year.

The wide-ranging report – the first time the committee had considered palliative and end of life care since 2004 – looked at just about every facet of the care and support that people with a terminal illness receive, from access to services through to the competence of the workforce.

Key challenges

In many ways, the inquiry was a perfect snapshot of what has happened in palliative and end of life care over the last five years. There were some examples of good practice, but a number of areas for concern, including social care and issues with NHS Continuing Healthcare, where people with a terminal illness continue to experience excessively long waits to get the care they need.

Crucially, the report also set out some key challenges for the next government. Some are more achievable and long overdue, like published plans from commissioners about how they will ensure that people from all backgrounds will get access to palliative care. Some are much harder to achieve, but no less necessary, such as ensuring that people with dementia have equal access to palliative and end of life care.

A real sense of urgency

While the report set out much-needed recommendations from the future, the urgency to make reform happen will, as is often the case, have to come from charities and from the public.

At Marie Curie we are determined to ensure that whoever forms the new government takes the needs of people with a terminal illness seriously and begins reforming care and support services so that they are more accessible and provide higher-quality care for people at the end of life.

There is a real sense of urgency. We know that by 2030 the number of people dying each year will increase by 17%. New research we have undertaken with Ipsos Mori shows that seven out of 10 carers think that people with a terminal illness do not get all the care and support they need. Around half of people who die each year in the UK do so in hospital, despite the fact that less than 5% of us would want to die in hospital.

We do not think this situation is good enough. We are also concerned that if we do not start to make changes now then the health and social care system will struggle even more in coming years, leading to more hospital deaths and even more people not getting the care and support they need.

What the next government needs to do

There are solutions to this growing problem. As the Select Committee acknowledged, people who receive a Marie Curie Nurse are more likely to die at home, less likely to use hospital services and have total care costs of £500 less than people who have not been provided a Marie Curie Nurse by their local NHS.

What the next government will need to do is look at services like those provided by Marie Curie Nurses and make some conscious decisions to invest in good community care for people with a terminal illness.

At the moment the health and social care system is stuck in a loop of trying to support people after they’ve reached crisis point rather than investing in preventative care that will help people live well for as long as possible. We believe that community care is the future direction we need to take to ensure that people affected by terminal illness are supported sooner, kept out of hospital for longer and are able to enjoy their lives as much as possible.

Download the report