Major survey shows nurses need more support to care for terminally ill people

 Dee Sissons, Director of Nursing

Today, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) released a survey revealing that its members are concerned that the NHS is not properly equipped to support people at the end of life in the way that they want to. Many nurses detailed their frustrations about not being able to support terminally ill people, particularly as they felt it was an “honour and a privilege”.
Of the nurses surveyed, only 10 per cent felt they were always able to provide the right care to terminally ill people and more than 58 per cent found that their patients’ wishes could not be fulfilled in the last six months of life.  This was attributed to a number of reasons, including a lack of time, resources and training. At Marie Curie, we know what a key role nurses have in caring for terminally ill people. We were encouraged to see that nurses feel honoured to be able to care for someone at the end of life and would like to see them better supported to do so. One of the other issues raised by nurses working in hospitals is that only 19 per cent say they felt able to talk to someone about their wishes at the end of life. From our ‘Difficult conversations  ’ report earlier this year, we know that many health professionals feel unprepared to do this. We support the RCN’s call to improve training for nurses so that they can have those conversations and ensure that terminally ill people’s wishes are respected. Another issue that came up was from nurses working in the community where only 36 per cent of them felt their area had enough resources to care for terminally ill people who wanted to stay at home. More worryingly, nearly 70 per cent reported that this lack of resources had led to terminally ill people being admitted to hospital at the end of their lives, against their stated wishes. We know that very few terminally ill people want to die in hospital and often would prefer to stay at home.  Community nursing services play a vital role in helping terminally ill to achieve this. Recent research by the Nuffield Trust has shown the wide range of benefits of providing well-resourced community care for terminally ill people.  As well as ensuring people are more likely to be cared for and die where they normally live, good community services are more efficient and can save money for the local NHS.  Therefore, it is crucial that community nurses get support and training to help them provide the care that terminally ill people and their families need and deserve. The RCN have said they want to work to ensure the right support is available for nurses caring for terminally ill people. We want to support this through the work that we do.