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Number of people needing palliative care to rise substantially by 2040

Author: Leila Hawkins
18 May 2017

The number of people needing palliative care in England and Wales over the next 25 years is likely to increase by 42 per cent, according to new research published in the open access journal BMC Medicine.

The research, based on data from the Office of National Statistics, found that by 2040 at least 160,000 more people each year will be likely to have palliative care needs including pain management of chronic illnesses and end-of-life care at hospitals, hospices, and at home. If all are to receive palliative care through the healthcare system, a significant increase in training and resources for both specialist and non-specialist care providers is needed immediately.

Dr Simon Noah Etkind, lead author from the Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London, said:

“Current population and mortality trends in England and Wales suggest that 25 per cent more people will die each year by 2040. In our research we found that if current trends continue, the estimated number of people who will require palliative care will grow by much more than this, due to a sharp increase in the number of people dying from chronic illnesses, particularly cancer and dementia.”

“This, combined with an aging population means that we should expect 42 per cent more people with palliative care needs by 2040.”

The study also found that over half of all deaths will occur in people over the age of 85, and dementia deaths will almost quadruple by 2040.

Dr Etkind explained:

“By 2040 national data suggests there will be a rise in the prevalence of chronic progressive illnesses, and we believe that many of these will require symptom relief and palliative care. We estimate that at least 85 per cent of deaths in 2040 will require some form of palliative care and we can predict a shift towards dementia as a greater contributor to palliative care need.”

Professor Irene Higginson, Director of the Cicely Saunders Institute at King’s College London and co-author of the paper, said:

“There is an urgent need to act now to transform health, social and palliative care services to meet the projected growth in palliative care need. More attention should be given to the needs of people and those close to them when facing progressive illness, particularly those dying from chronic and complex illnesses, and age-related syndromes such as frailty and dementia. There is a need to support their families, who shoulder so much of the care.”

“The way in which we provide healthcare and palliative care will need to change. In advance of this we are testing new more integrated approaches, where people can have expert palliative care alongside their illnesses.”

Simon Jones, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Marie Curie, said:

"The scale of the problem is significant.  It is clear that we need to radically rethink how we care for people at the end of their lives, to ensure everyone with a terminal illness gets the range of support they need, when they need it.  We need to start that process now, before we reach crisis point.

"We've launched a five year programme working with University of Cambridge and Sheffield Hallam University for the first phase to radically rethink how palliative and end of life care could be delivered for future generations.  It is hoped that the £3.5m Marie Curie Design to Care Programme will deliver a blueprint for a new type of palliative and end of life care service design that can meet the huge challenges ahead.

"If we don’t act now, more people in future will go without the care they desperately need, more will die where they don’t want to and more families and friends will have their lives devastated by the negative experiences of their dying loved ones."

The authors of the research state that these projections could be an understatement however, as they don’t take into account people with multiple conditions or their length, and the numbers are based on current trends so the projections are only accurate if these trends continue.

Commenting in response to the research, Dr Ros Taylor, MBE Clinical Director at Hospice UK, said:

“This projected massive increase in future demand for palliative care will have far-reaching implications for our healthcare system and society at large and is something that all care providers, including families, need to prepare for now as a matter of urgency.”

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