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Good news about the UK’s palliative care … but is it good enough?

We were heartened to hear the UK topped the leader board in the Quality of Death Index commissioned by the Lien Foundation (a philanthropic organisation in Singapore).  In particular, we were pleased to see that a lot of the credit for this achievement was attributed to the hospice movement.

Hospices receive around a third of their funding from the NHS and the remaining two thirds of their income must come from charitable donations.  But with only 200+ in the UK, just 120,000 people a year can be cared for in our hospices.

The Quality of Death Index reviewed 80 countries and the UK took first position with a score of 93.9%. Included in the Index criteria were quality of the hospitals and hospices, staffing levels and skills, and the affordability and quality of care.

However, the report also pointed out that improvement was still needed in the UK, as with all the countries indexed.  The report’s authors stated the UK does not provide adequate services for everyone, citing an investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. A report published in May 2015 identified several weaknesses in palliative care which included:

  • Poor communications and planning
  • Poor symptom control
  • Failure to respond to the needs of the dying
  • Inadequate out-of-hours services
  • Delays in diagnosis & treatment referrals

Compared to the prestige of coming top of the Quality of Death Index, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s findings are damning. Julie Mellor, who investigates unresolved complaints about the health service says palliative care could be improved for up to 350,000 people.

This goes to show that, while reports like the Quality of Death Index might provide a useful comparison between countries, healthcare providers cannot afford to be complacent. There is still a long way to go before we can say with any confidence that the UK is a place where everyone can die with dignity.

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