Why we want government to stay committed to hospice care

by Richard Meade Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Scotland Hospice-Care-Week-blog

This week is Hospice Care Week, an important time to celebrate our hospices, the work of our staff that deliver hospice care, and the vital role that hospice care plays in the lives of many of our patients and their families.

Across the UK, our ageing population is growing quickly as people live longer, but this is coupled with an increase in people living with terminal conditions and often with more than one, adding a high level of complexity to the care they need. The number of people dying each year is increasing, so hospice care has never been more in demand and it is a need that is only going to grow. Hospices provide specialist nurses and doctors, as well as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, complementary therapists, social workers and chaplaincy services. This enables patients to receive the best social, practical, spiritual and emotional support possible. Hospices support families and carers too, even after their loved one has died. High standards of care Hospices also provide the highest standard of care for terminally ill people and their families in the UK. The National Survey of Bereaved People, which interviewed people who had recently lost a loved one, found that 59% of people said the care they received in a hospice was either outstanding or excellent. This is higher than either care at home or in a care home, and substantially higher than hospital, which only 32% or respondents said was either outstanding or excellent. The survey, which mainly covers England, is an invaluable tool for gaining insight into people’s experience of end of life care – we would welcome the introduction of similar dedicated surveys for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The setting for hospice care has increasingly changed over the years. It is no longer confined to the bricks and mortar of hospice buildings, but is frequently being delivered at people’s homes giving them the chance to remain in the comfort of their own surroundings with family and loved ones close by. Hospices are offering more day services providing the support a patient needs, but enabling them to go home after each visit. Preferred place of death Research shows that the last place most people would want to die is in a hospital, with people preferring to be at home or in a community setting. People’s preference for being cared for and dying in a hospice also increases drastically as they get older. In one survey, 13% of 18-24 year olds said they would prefer to die in hospice, but this more than doubles among 45-54 year olds, 32% of whom said they would prefer to die in a hospice. We think this is partly explained by the fact that by middle age most of us have had experience of a hospice through having a relative or close loved one die. We have first-hand experience of not just the quality of care on offer in hospices but also hospices’ innovative approach to caring for terminally ill people and their families. This innovative approach – fitting care around the patient’s needs and delivering it across a range of settings – is where hospices can not only help the NHS tackle its ever-increasing costs and capacity issues, but fulfil people’s wish to live their last days close to their loved ones. For these reasons, hospice care is important for many thousands of people. So it’s an important part of Marie Curie’s work to keep talking to the government and devolved administrations across the UK about why they should remain committed to supporting hospice care.