New study reveals patients are missing out on essential palliative care
by Anne Finucane Research Facilitator at Marie Curie Hospice, Edinburgh New research published today from researchers at Marie Curie Hospice, Edinburgh, the University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian, reveals that only 20% of non-cancer patients in Scotland are receiving palliative care before dying. The study is the first of its kind in the UK to examine the point at which patients are formally identified for palliative care. We investigated the cases of 684 patients from nine GP practices. Only 20% of patients diagnosed with dementia or heart, lung, liver or kidney conditions (organ failure) either requested or were identified for palliative care before dying, compared to 75% of patients with cancer. Our research team also found that many patients who did receive palliative care received it too late to fully benefit – on average only eight weeks before dying. Why does this happen? GPs we spoke to said that introducing palliative care was fairly straightforward for those with cancer, who typically had a clear terminal decline but much more difficult for patients with other life-threatening illnesses. Some GPs also found it difficult to raise and discuss death and dying with patients, particularly with patients with a non-cancer diagnosis. And both patients and health professionals struggled with understanding of end-of-life/palliative phrases, further confusing the issue. What does it mean for patients? Our research shows that patients and their families would clearly benefit from a gradual phasing in of supportive and palliative care, while they continue with other treatments.