‘NHS failing dying patients in final days’

Picture: Greg Macvean
Picture: Greg Macvean
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HEALTH campaigners have demanded a new strategy to improve end-of-life care for Scottish patients.

The Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care (SPPC) and Marie Curie Cancer Care said that, while progress had been made in the last few years, more needed to be done to ensure people died where they wanted to and with appropriate pain relief and support. They called on the Scottish Government to update its strategy on end-of-life care, taking into account an ageing population dying with multiple health problems.

In February, experts on end-of-life care and MSPs met to discuss progress made since the publication of the Living and Dying Well strategy in 2008. Their report on the findings of the meeting, published today, concluded that more action was needed to improve the care of people at the end of life. It said: “This event posed the question, ‘Are we living and dying well yet?’. The answer to that must be ‘No’. Despite progress and much good practice, there remains huge scope for improving the Scottish public’s experience of death, dying and bereavement.”

The report pointed out that a Scottish Government 2020 
Vision and Route Map document, outlining a plan to achieve quality healthcare, delivered in a person-centred fashion, made no mention of death or dying.

With more than 54,000 people dying in Scotland each year, and an ageing population, the report said more people would be living with multiple health problems, needing greater care.

The experts highlighted inequalities in access to end-of-life care, with those with cancer getting more support than others.

They cited a recent study which found 80 per cent of non-cancer patients were not identified by primary-care staff as needing palliative care, while 75 per cent of cancer patients were able to access services. The report also pointed to the decision by the Scottish Government to phase out use of the Liverpool Care Pathway by the end of this year, following concerns over its use, in some cases including patients wrongly being denied treatment, food and water.

The experts said: “There is now a need to consider how to improve care in the last days and hours of life, while maintaining the progress achieved over recent years and building on existing good practice.”

Richard Meade, head of policy and public affairs at Marie Curie Scotland, said: “We only have one chance to get end-of-life care right for people and this must be our ambition for everyone. The Scottish Government has achieved a great deal over the last six years, but it is clear there are challenges remaining.”

Kenny Steele, SPPC chair, added: “Every one of us will experience end-of-life care through our family and friends and, eventually, personally. It is not a minority issue but one that touches everyone in society.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “This report recognises the important progress that has been made since Living and Dying Well was published in 2008, and rightly highlights that more can be done. That is why we have agreed to support the development of a Strategic Framework for Action providing a renewed focus to further support high-quality palliative and end-of-life care.”