We need to remove the barriers to palliative care in England

In England each year around 92,000 people who need palliative care are not receiving it.

Many of these people will have a terminal illness other than cancer, like heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseand dementia. Research by the London School of Economics and Political Science on behalf of Marie Curie has shown that people with non-cancer diagnoses are less likely to have access to palliative care services.

Many of these people will also have multiple conditions at the same time, which may make their symptoms harder to cope with and can make getting the right care even more problematic.

Breaking down barriers

At Marie Curie we want to ensure that everyone who has a terminal illness, regardless of what illness they have, is able to get the right care and support. To do that, we must remove the barriers to care that people with non-cancer diagnoses experience.

As part of our campaign to change the conversation around terminal illness, we have published a new report on Triggers for palliative care. This report highlights two of the key barriers that are preventing people getting the palliative care they need.

The first barrier is a general lack of awareness amongst health and social care professionals and also the general public about what palliative care is and who it is for. Most of us think that palliative care is for people who have terminal cancer and usually only when they are close to death. But palliative care is actually about managing symptoms and enhancing the quality of life for anyone who has a life-threatening or terminal illness.

The second barrier is a lack of training for health and social care professionals. Many will have little to no regular training on how to spot when people need palliative care. Because with terminal illnesses other than cancer it is hard to tell when someone is close to death, many people are missing out on palliative care.

What needs to be done

Triggers for palliative care highlights some of the signs that become apparent when someone with a terminal illness other than cancer needs palliative care. However, it is clear that there needs to be substantial change in how we think about palliative care and how health and social care professionals are trained to care for those of us who have a terminal illness.

In England, the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, wants to do more to move people out of hospital, and access to palliative care plays a vital role in making this happen. Indeed, the Nuffield Trust has shown that patients who have access to the Marie Curie Nursing Service are less likely to have A&E admissions and have total care costs that are nearly £500 less than those who are not given access to a Marie Curie Nurse by their local NHS.

Of course, we can only care for people who are referred to us and this is why we’ve written to Medical and Nursing Directors across England to ask them to make sure their staff know who their local palliative care teams are.

You can help us as well. Visit our sign up page where you can write to your local MP and ask them to make care for people with a terminal illness a priority. After all, 92,000 people dying each year without support to control their symptoms is just too many.

Nobody should have to deal with a terminal illness without the care and support they need to live as well as possible.