Jonathan Ellis: Palliative care is a human right to be protected
EARLIER this week The Scotsman’s website reported Andrew de Beaux’s suggestion that NHS funding for palliative care should be redirected towards funding surgery for obese people, questioning whether it is worth paying for the terminally ill to be given “expensive treatments which have little benefit”, aside from “prolonging life by a few weeks”.
The debate appears to be based on a misunderstanding of palliative care. By definition, it intends neither to hasten nor postpone death. Instead, it helps people live well before they die by meeting the physical, emotional, practical and spiritual needs of each individual. Its power to transform someone’s quality of life, and the effect this has on their friends and family, should never be underestimated.
It is dangerous to consider palliative care as an expendable luxury. A dying person is still a living person, and we would all want our loved ones to live comfortably and with dignity, with their physical and emotional pain under control, if they were to have a terminal illness.
Hospices make a huge contribution to supporting people at the end of life and their families, caring for 360,000 people a year. Most hospices are independent local charities, only receiving a minority of their funding from the NHS. Together, hospices must raise £1.5 million every day, making them collectively the biggest fundraising cause in the UK.
Yet there are still too many people who could benefit from palliative care but are not receiving it, often because of a patchy and inconsistent funding system.
If we want everyone with a life-limiting and terminal illness to have a good quality of life and the care they deserve, we need more and fairer investment in palliative care, not less. The current system does not adequately support the vital role that local hospices play in providing palliative care.
With growing demand, and NHS funding already under pressure, now is not the time for the NHS to be diverting resources. We cannot risk destabilising current funding, which would have serious implications for people facing the end of life.
• Jonathan Ellis is director of policy and public affairs at the Help the Hospices charity.
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