And, at such a time, when people are suffering, worried, shocked and often overwhelmed, working through bureaucracy and complicated forms to access financial support is something they can do without.
That is why in the Scottish government we are acting to provide better and faster assistance.
As the Scottish government is now replacing the UK government’s disability benefits with our own, we have taken the opportunity to change the way that people access these benefits, including those who are facing a terminal illness.
The reason is we want it to be as easy as possible for them to access the financial support that is there for them.
Working together with people with a terminal illness, clinicians, charities and third sector organisations – like end-of-life charity Marie Curie and MND Scotland – we have put a system in place to access disability benefits that has the needs of the people it serves at its heart.
So, what are we changing?
Firstly, we have moved away from the existing approach followed by the Department for Work and Pensions. Their system only allows someone to access assistance through the terminal illness route if the individual is considered likely to die within the next six months.
Instead, we have chosen not to be bound by dates and predicted timescales, because any definition that only has a time limit may exclude some people who need our support.
We are putting greater focus on clinical judgement, so that we are guided by medical professionals’ conclusions about an individual’s illness.
Secondly, in our new system there won’t be any assessments once a terminal illness has been diagnosed; and, thirdly, applications will be fast-tracked and paid at the maximum rate.
To support the application process, we will provide services to advise on available payments and explain clearly how to apply. Pre-application advice will be provided by local delivery staff in communities across Scotland, to encourage people to take up their full entitlement.
These changes to the definition of terminal illness have already been implemented through our new Child Disability Payment and will also apply to our new Adult Disability Payment, which is to be introduced from spring next year as a pilot scheme and then rolled out from the following summer.
Collectively, these changes that the Scottish government is making will allow many more people to quickly access the financial support that they need.
At this time, more than any other, we recognise that it is vital that people are treated with dignity, fairness and respect in every interaction they have with Scotland’s devolved benefits system and our agency Social Security Scotland. We are determined to deliver that.
I hope that this new approach, and the changes we are making, will meaningfully help those whose time is at its most precious.
Ben Macpherson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith and also a minister for social security and local government