Terminally-ill patients in rural communities are facing longer hospital stays due to challenges in finding end-of-life care in their area, a study has found.
Glasgow University experts found that remote areas such as Orkney and Shetland incurred much higher healthcare costs for dying patients than cities, through analysis of 15 years of patient records from across Scotland.
Rural patients tended to stay for longer periods of time in hospital, which could have a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, due to a lack of social care or hospice care available so the patients can be discharged.
The team suggested providing more care at home would reduce costs and prove better for patients, in line with the Scottish Government’s plans to shift care away from hospitals.
Lead researcher Dr Claudia Geue, a lecturer in health economics at Glasgow University, said: “We know that the last three to six months of life are the most expensive part, particularly any hospital stays.
“We think this highlights the particular difficulties rural communities have when discharging patients in the last couple of months of their lives.
“There is a shortage of end-of-life facilities in rural and remote areas.”
Travelling longer distances to hospital is linked to higher mortality rates from heart attacks and stroke, the study published in the Age and Ageing journal also said.
Last year, the Scottish Government announced a £3.5 million boost for palliative care to allow everyone to have more choices at the end of their lives.
Richard Meade, Marie Curie’s head of policy and public affairs Scotland, said: “We welcome this report which offers an important analysis of some of the concerns associated with delivering end of life care in rural communities.
“At Marie Curie we know that rural patients living with a terminal illness can face barriers to care, such as a lack of accessible transport and specialist services, physical and social isolation, inconsistent out-of-hours services and limited staff resources.
“Access to palliative care services can improve quality of life and support people to live at home or in a community setting, where this is their choice.”