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New report says thousands of cancer patients die in hospitals against their wishes

Author: Leila Hawkins
28 April 2017

A new report by Macmillan Cancer Support has found that tens of thousands of cancer patients are dying in hospitals against their wishes.

In No Regrets - How talking more openly about death could help people die well, research by YouGov found that 62,000 people of people who die from cancer die in hospitals each year in the UK. However  only one per cent would choose to die in hospitals, with 64 per cent wanting to die at home, and 18 per cent in a hospice.

Almost one in four people with cancer have thought about dying from the disease 'constantly' or 'often', but 35 per cent are 'suffering in silence', and haven't shared these feelings with anyone, and  22 per cent of this group said this is because they didn't want to bother anyone.

Research carried out by ICM found 64 per cent of the UK population believe we don't talk about death enough. 48 per cent of people have made no preparations for death, and 62 per cent have not written a will.

Macmillan warn that a 'crisis of communication' is preventing people from dying where they wish, but having earlier conversations could be key to improving this. If healthcare professionals have a record of where someone would like to die, that person is almost twice as likely to die in the place of their choosing.

The importance of talking was something Vivien Lee, age 55, from Merseyside, discovered when her father, Peter, was dying of lung mesothelioma - an asbestos-related cancer - last year. In the months before he died, Peter talked frankly with his healthcare team and daughter about his wishes. Vivien said:

"Talking about dad's worries was so important and I will be forever grateful that we had those conversations. Together, we discovered that his biggest fear was that he would die in pain, so we worked through this issue with his care team.”

"Because he was honest and open, we could make sure that his last few days were as pain-free as possible. We didn't leave anything unsaid and this brought us closer together. I knew exactly what he wanted and what he was scared of, so when it came to the end, I knew that he got what he wanted. This made it so much easier to cope with his death."

Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said:

"At Macmillan, we believe there is such a thing as a 'good' death, which is possible when someone has the right care, their pain is managed, and - where possible - they have choice about where they die.”

"The only certainty in life is that we will all die. What is less certain is where and what experience we will have when it happens. It's only by talking about dying that we can agree what is really important to us, and put plans in place to make that happen.”

"It is vital that the next Government prioritises care for people at the end of their lives, so more people can have a say about what matters to them at the end."

Commenting in response, Dr Ros Taylor, MBE, Clinical Director at national hospice care charity Hospice UK, said:

“This report highlights the extent of how societal cultural taboos around talking about death can negatively impact on the care people with cancer receive at the end of life and restrict their choices over where they are supported.”

“Dying is an inevitable and irrevocable reality for us all. If, as a society, we can be more open and accepting about death then we can help ensure that everyone can prepare and plan for a dignified and peaceful end. This includes doctors and other health care professionals, as well as our society in general, to be involved in advance care planning and braver in initiating conversations early on about what matters to people approaching the end of life.”

“Hospices support hundreds of thousands of people to die with dignity and in peace, in their own homes and in hospices themselves. Hospices are also actively helping break down barrier in talking about death in different ways in their local communities.”

To read the full report visit Macmillan’s No Regrets 

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