Palliative care debate in the House of Lords - what could it mean?

Baroness Ilora Finlay’s Access to Palliative Care Bill   will receive its second reading in the House of Lords this Friday (23 October). This means that peers (i.e. members of the House of Lords) will have the opportunity to have a general debate about this Bill and the issues it raises.

We know that 110,000 people across the UK miss out on the palliative care they need, which equates to one in four people each year not getting the care and support they need at the end of their life.

Our ageing population means need is only going to increase in the coming years. This is, therefore, an important moment to raise the profile of palliative care and to draw attention to some of the barriers which prevent tens of thousands people getting the care they need.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is for people living with a terminal illness where a cure is no longer possible. It’s also for people who have a complex illness and need their symptoms controlled. Although these people usually have an advanced, progressive condition, this isn’t always the case.

Palliative care aims to treat or manage pain and other physical symptoms. It will also help with any psychological, social or spiritual needs.

What does the Access to Palliative Care Bill say?

Baroness Finlay’s Bill would, if passed, effectively give everyone a right to receive high quality palliative care, regardless of where they live.

It places duties on clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) across England to commission specialist palliative care services that are appropriate to people’s needs and available when they need them, whether they’re in hospital, at home or in a care home.

It also includes requirements about training and education so that health and social care professionals are properly skilled in pain relief and communication.

What do the public think?

8 out of 10 UK adults agree people should have the right to high quality palliative care, no matter where they live

At Marie Curie, we believe everyone has a right to palliative care when they need it. But at the moment only a fifth (21%) of hospital trusts in England provide face to face palliative care services, 9am-5pm seven days a week. We therefore support the aims of the Bill and have written to peers setting out why access to palliative care needs urgent attention.

And we know that we’re not the only ones who think this. Ahead of Friday’s debate, Marie Curie commissioned a survey which asked the general public what they thought about people’s right to access the care they need. Eight out of ten agreed that people should have the right to high quality palliative care, no matter where they live.

The findings also reveal how strongly the public agree that people with a terminal illness should have a right to medication for pain control around the clock (87%) and a right to get support at home if that is where they want to be cared for (85%).

8 out of 10 UK adults agree that people with a terminal illness should have the right to medication for pain control around the clock

What happens next?

As a Private Member’s Bill, the odds are stacked against Baroness Finlay’s Bill becoming law. Yet even if the Bill does not make it further than its second reading on Friday, the issue of access to high quality palliative care is clearly important to a majority of us and needs greater parliamentary attention.

This is why Marie Curie is also 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.