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Dying matters in end of life care

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The National Care of the Dying Audit for Hospitals (England) Report, published this week, has looked at the care given to over 6,500 patients who passed away in hospital last year.

The report, which has been led by the Royal College of Physicians in partnership with the Marie Curie Palliative Care Institute in Liverpool, has shown that only 21% of Hospital Trusts has the recommended seven day per week access to face-to-face palliative care service, and only 2% have a 24/7 service.

Whilst 76% of relatives questioned felt supported during their loved one’s final days, 24% did not. Perhaps surprisingly, only 19% of Hospital Trusts require their doctors to have mandatory training in end of life care.

And even though it’s recommended that Hospital Trusts discuss and audit care of the dying in their Trust each year, nearly half of the Trusts looked at for the report had not done so in the previous year.

The report has also found that not all patients who are in the final stages are being given medication for symptoms like agitation, pain, trouble breathing and nausea, with figures ranging from 63% to 81%. This is not only distressing for the patient, but for their loved ones who can be left feeling powerless to help.

As the saying goes, there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. It comes to us all and we’d all like to think that in our last days and hours, wherever they are, we will be treated with dignity and respect, and that the loved ones we leave behind will get the support that they need.

Hopefully this report will be the start of a realisation that even though finances in the NHS are tight, it’s just as important to spend wisely on care for people at the end of their lives as it is at the start and in the middle.

By Kerry Barlow, clinical negligence solicitor