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Hospice UK National Conference 2017: What does the future hold for dying people?

Author: Leila Hawkins
22 November 2017

In the opening plenary of Hospice UK's National Conference, Professor Irene Higginson OBE, Director of the Cicely Saunders Institute, talked about the future trends that will have a key impact on models of palliative and hospice care.

Irene began the session by looking at the next developments in healthcare. New technology is key, such as virtual consultations with doctors, wearable tech to monitor health, and non-invasive procedures.  

Global electronic  health records will enable monitoring of patients over time to identify those who need palliative care as early as possible, and therefore provide early decision support systems.  

As the population is ageing worldwide, the number of life-limiting conditions are on the increase too. As people live longer, they require more treatment.  

Irene cites the projection of a 25 per cent rise in deaths in England and Wales by 2040,  because of the elderly population and the post-war baby boom.  It will continue to increase till 2050, with 54 per cent of those dying being over the age of 85. It is predicted that a similar rise will happen in Scotland and Ireland.  

Projecting the place of death is more complex than the numbers, as this is influenced by trends and what services are available. However it is something that can be altered by changes to  policy,  communication, and culture. 

This has been proven by the rise in home deaths in England and Wales since 2005 against initial projections, particularly in the case of cancer, because policy makers set about making changes after the research was originally done. 

If the current trend continues there will be 235,000 more deaths in the community by 2040. Bed capacity, workforce, training and education need to be taken into account, to ensure all needs can be met. It is predicted that the majority of deaths will take place in care homes, followed by homes, in hospitals and in hospices. 

Ahead of today's Budget announcement Irene talked about what she believed it should include: research into the new models of palliative care and their effectiveness, and trials of new therapies, both pharma and non-pharma. 

She firmly states that there is no case for not investing. Palliative care can reduce healthcare costs especially when referred early, within two days of admission. Another huge benefit of palliative care is that it doubles the odds of home deaths.

Her wish is for people to be empowered to decide when they want palliative care around the world. Assessment tools such as the Palliative care Outcome Scale (POS), has been developed and validated in many countries, settings and for many diseases, asking 10 questions and taking five minutes.  

"We are facing a new era of palliative care" she concluded. This requires transformative models of care, research into cost effective services, and new technology. 

For more information visit Hospice UK National Conference 2017

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