We must do all we can to improve access to palliative care in Scotland

In Scotland, an estimated 40,000 of the 54,700 people who die each year need some palliative care. Research carried out by the London School of Economics and Political Science suggests that nearly 11,000 people who need palliative care in Scotland each year are not accessing it.

The number of people dying in Scotland is due to increase by 13% over the next 25 years, so we need to act now to meet that gap or this problem will get much worse.

Increasingly, people are living and dying with many conditions at the same time, which can make getting the right care even more problematic. This is something that must be considered as we look to meet the care needs of people.

Report suggests approach to care

In our report, Triggers for palliative care, we highlight evidence which shows the different experiences faced by people living with a terminal illness other than cancer. Our report also highlights a number of barriers people face in receiving palliative care as well as some triggers for healthcare professionals to consider when assessing a patient who might need palliative care.

Marie Curie fully supports the Scottish Government’s commitment to publishing a new strategic framework for action for palliative and end of life care in 2015. This is an opportunity to set out an ambitious plan to ensure that everyone living with a terminal illness gets the care they need. We believe that the framework should include a clear commitment to ensure that everyone with a palliative care need has access to it by 2020, regardless of condition.

Our package of proposals

We also make a number of other recommendations in our accompanying report on the implications for Scotland, which we believe would support the framework. Required palliative care training for everyone working with people with a terminal illness, as well as supporting better understanding between palliative care specialists and disease specific specialists would improve access to care and care pathways.

Developing a better evidence base, including reviewing NHS Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s Palliative Care Indicators and assessing services against them, is also important to help us better measure progress.

The integration of health and social care moved forward in Scotland in April 2015 with the creation of 32 Integrated Joint Boards. Palliative care has been designated as a function that must be integrated. Shona Robison MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport, stated that palliative care would be an “early priority” for the new boards in a Scottish Parliament debate on integration. We hope the Integrated Joint Boards look to tackle the palliative care needs in their areas as they now develop their strategies for the coming three years.

The next six months presents us with the best opportunity to shape palliative care in Scotland for the rest of the decade. We must all work to get this right for our family, friends and ourselves when the time comes.

Visit our sign up page to write to your local MP and ask them to make care for people with a terminal illness a priority.