We need to talk about palliative care

Our Policy and Public Affairs Manager in Scotland, Richard Meade, will be giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee on Tuesday 22 September as part of its Palliative Care Inquiry. View Marie Curie’s written evidence to the committee. In this blog, Susan Lowes talks about the potential for cross-sector working to improve palliative and end of life care.

(left to right) Bill Whiland, Marie Curie Scotland Expert Voices Group; Bob Doris MSP, Deputy Convener of the Health and Sport Committee; Duncan McNeil MSP, Convener of the Health and Sport Committee; Harry Bunch, Marie Curie Scotland Expert Voices Group at the Marie Curie Hospice, Glasgow for the Inquiry. (Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – 2015. Licensed under the Open Scottish Parliament Licence v1.0.)

“Hospice, palliative and end-of-life care [is] becoming everybody’s business”, said Professor David Clark, from the University of Glasgow, as he gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s first evidence session on their Inquiry into palliative care last Tuesday. 

And he’s absolutely right. We know that there are thousands of people missing out on palliative care right now in Scotland. We know that’s not good enough.

Research estimates that there are nearly 11,000 people in Scotland who would benefit from, but are not currently receiving palliative care. So what can we do to make sure that everyone with a palliative care need has access to it?

What we propose

In our response to the Inquiry, we discuss what we, as a country, need to do to improve access to palliative and end of life care. We outline three practical steps we can take to help people living with a terminal illness, and their families, have the best possible quality of life and the best possible death. We need to:

  • understand what palliative care looks like in Scotland, identifying what the need is and where it is being unmet
  • undertake targeted service provision improvement, including education and training of health and social care professionals
  • challenge perceptions, including what people understand by the terms palliative care and terminal illness

How we talk, why we talk, what we say, where and when we discuss dying all matters

With everything that is happening in Scotland around palliative care – the Inquiry, the Scottish Government’s upcoming framework for action and the integration of health and social care – we have a fantastic opportunity to change the conversation.

We need to be more open in our communities, raising awareness of how we can support each other and how we can cope.

We need to be teaching our children about death as an inevitable and natural part of life.

We need to be engaging all our professionals in how to talk to each other, and to families and carers.

We need to make sure we support our employees, and those who are unable to work, either through their terminal illness or caring responsibilities.

In February, I spoke about the opportunities of health and social care integration to help get it right for people living with a terminal illness in Scotland. But what would happen if we went further? Imagine if all sectors worked together to make sure everyone in Scotland had a positive and supportive experience of death and dying.

We’re working to change the conversation about terminal illness, why don’t you join us in our campaign?