We're changing the conversation on caring for people with a terminal illness in Scotland

by Richard Meade Head of Policy & Public Affairs, Scotland Richard Meade. Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Scotland

In Scotland, it is estimated that between 35,000 and 40,000 of the 55,000 people who die each year need some palliative care. Yet recent research, carried out by the London School of Economic (LSE) and commissioned by Marie Curie, suggests that nearly 11,000 people who need palliative care in Scotland each year are not accessing it.

With the number of people dying in Scotland due to increase by 13 per cent over the next 25 years this will be a problem that gets worse unless we act now. An IPOS Mori Survey of UK health and social care professionals found a number of barriers that prevent people with a terminal illness from getting the care that they need. These included funding, having the time to care and a lack of co-ordination between different teams delivering, for example, health and social care. These are significant barriers to overcome.

How we're meeting the challenges we face

To meet all these challenges Scotland is going to have to find the resources to care for the current and increasing number of people living with a terminal illness. However, this care must always be built around choice, with people at the centre, and it must support family and communities to deliver care where the person wants it. It must also be for everyone that needs it, regardless of condition, age, or if a person lives on their own. The Scottish Government has recognised that things need to change and so we have at least begun the conversation in Scotland. Firstly, it has committed to producing a new strategic framework for action on palliative and end of life care by the end of the year. This presents us with an opportunity to have a very public conversation about how we can ensure everyone living with a terminal illness is getting the care they need. Secondly, it has legislated for the integration of health and social care in Scotland with a requirement that palliative care be included in those integration plans. In a recent debate on health and social care, Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport, Shona Robison MSP, said that palliative care would be “an early priority” for the new integrated boards. With the LSE and other research estimating that providing care to people with terminal illnesses when they need it will potentially create savings, this is a win-win situation. Not only will people get the care that they need and want, but the state will see less pressure on hospital services and save more money to re-invest. We may have started the conversation in Scotland, but we also need to continue to shape the discussion to ensure we see the progress for all people living with a terminal illness. If you would like to have your say, take a look at our campaign page to see how Marie Curie is tackling these major issues and how you can get involved.