Doctors not told to hasten deaths, says health secretary Alex Neil

Neil has vowed not to ask doctors to hit targets
Neil has vowed not to ask doctors to hit targets
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HEALTH secretary Alex Neil has vowed not to ask doctors to hit targets for the number of patients who die on the controversial Liverpool Care Pathway, after it emerged hospitals in England were being given financial incentives to do so.

His promise comes amid concerns from a growing number of doctors, patients, their families and charities about the care pathway, known as LCP, which many critics say is a way of hastening the deaths of people who are terminally-ill.

The Association for Palliative Medicine, which represents 1,000 doctors working in hospices and specialist hospital wards, says the average lifespan of a patient on the pathway is 29 hours, but that some patients taken off the pathway have lived for several months. It emerged yesterday that up to £30 million has been handed to NHS hospitals south of the Border in the past three years to achieve LCP goals.

Several hospitals confirmed they received extra funding for increasing the percentage of patients who died while on LCP.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald, who is battling to give terminally-ill people in Scotland the right to choose when to die, described the incentives as “shocking”. She wrote to Mr Neil to ask if targets for LCP had been set in Scotland’s hospitals.

Ms MacDonald said: “Paying doctors more to end people’s lives when the patient has not given their consent is wrong.

“The difference between LCP and what I am seeking is that with LCP the patient does not say what they want. In many cases, their families are not even told, let alone asked, if LCP is to be used.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said “We do not have – or plan to introduce – targets for Liverpool Care Pathway.”

The Association for Palliative Medicine is organising an inquiry into the method, which is thought to be used in about 100,000 cases in the UK a year. It was revealed that payments to English hospitals to introduce LCP are made through a system called Commissioning for Quality and Innovation, which channels money to hospital trusts.

Part of the scheme was a target for the number of patients discharged from hospital to die at home after being put on LCP.

The Department for Health said: “It is right local areas try to improve the care and support offered to dying people as it means patients are more comfortable and treated with dignity in their final days and hours.”

But Dr Tony Cole, chair of the Medical Ethics Alliance pressure group said: “If death is accelerated by a single day that will save the NHS nearly £200 – that is the estimated cost of a patient per day in hospital. My position on the LCP is that it is inherently dangerous and unnecessary.”