We need to improve access to palliative care for everyone in Northern Ireland

A nurse talking on the phone

Working for Marie Curie in Northern Ireland I’m constantly reminded of the issues facing people with a terminal illness. We are an ageing population living with increasingly complex needs, which means more and more of us will need palliative care.

In my other ‘life’ I’m defined as part of the ‘sandwich generation’ because I care for my elderly mother and am a mother to two young children. Knowing about the importance of accessing good palliative care means I often think about what end of life will be like for all three generations of my family.

It’s emotional of course but it’s precisely this that drives me to want to do everything I can to ensure we all have a good death.  With this blog, I’m hoping to increase awareness of palliative care, so that its use can be extended to everyone with a terminal illness.

It's time to take action

In Northern Ireland, an estimated 3 out of 4 of us at the end of our lives will need some form of palliative care. Recent research carried out by the London School of Economics, estimates there are approximately 3,000 people in Northern Ireland who are currently not accessing the palliative care they need. This coupled with an expected increase in the Northern Ireland death rate of 28% by 2037, means the unmet need will increase dramatically unless we take action to address the problem now.

With life expectancy increasing, older people will also experience more long-term conditions, including terminal and chronic conditions such as heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, dementia, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease and stroke.

In our report, Triggers for Palliative Care and our Northern Ireland summary report we highlight some of the barriers that people living with a terminal illness other than cancer face in accessing palliative care.

We believe more awareness among health and social care professionals and the general public would help to increase the understanding of what palliative care is and the benefits it can bring. Its remit is often perceived to be limited to circumstances when people are at end of life, but its usage can extend far more widely to benefit and enhance the quality of life for anyone with a terminal illness.

What needs to be done

Our report has identified a number of recommendations which could improve access to palliative care for everyone who needs it in Northern Ireland, regardless of which condition they have.

We are calling upon the Northern Ireland Executive, colleagues and stakeholders across the health and social care system to support us in ensuring we have the right building blocks in place to meet the increasing need for palliative care in Northern Ireland. This includes an appropriately resourced palliative and end of life care strategy that recognises our ageing population and increased training and development in palliative care so our clinicians can better identify and care for those people who are currently missing out.

The coming months and years present us with the opportunity to build upon what we’ve collectively achieved to date and to shape the future of palliative care in Northern Ireland. This is an issue that will affect most of us during our lives, whether we are caring for a loved one or need care ourselves in the future.

We can all have a role in achieving this. Visit our sign up page to write to your local MLA and ask them to make care for people living with a terminal illness a priority. We need to start talking about the very positive contribution palliative care can make to people when the time is right to do so.

If we can increase awareness and support our clinicians with the skills to do this we will be helping to secure a better death for current and future generations.