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Hospice UK National Conference 2017: the reality of access to palliative care

Author: Leila Hawkins
24 November 2017
  • Professor Mike Bennett with Elsie

The opening plenary of day three looked at the realities of accessing palliative care in the UK.

Mike Bennett, Professor of Palliative Medicine at St Gemma's Hospice and University of Leeds, used the example of Elsie, an 80 year old woman with heart failure, to look at what a patient might require and value most from palliative care.

Reading from a number of surveys and media articles, Mike explained that the aspects of most importance to Elsie were being free from pain and being surrounded by her family. She also liked the fact that palliative care can be provided early on in the patient's condition.

The UK has been rated as the top country for palliative care provision in a report by the Economist, and according to the Cochrane review the odds of dying at home double with palliative care. However there are barriers to its provision - some patients want to continue fighting their condition, feel reluctant to accept it, or may not be fully aware of what it is.

From the clinicians' point of view they may feel they are abandoning their patients, be fearful of upsetting them, of admitting failure, or be unaware of its benefits.

According to research, only a small portion of non-cancer patients are receiving palliative care, which equates to only half of all patients in Elsie's circumstances.

Matthew Allsop, Research Fellow in Applied Health at the University of Leeds, introduced the results of a survey into who is receiving palliative care conducted by St Gemma's Hospice and Hospice UK. 64 adult hospices recorded information for their total number of 42,373 deaths in 2015, including patients' date of birth, diagnosis, ethnicity and date of death. 

The study found that the median number of days between referral to palliative care and death was 48. This rose to 78 days for under 50s, 59 days for those aged 50 - 74, and dropped to 39 days for those over 75.

Those with a cancer diagnosis received an average of 53 days of palliative care, while non-cancer patients received just 26. The report also reflected a geographical split, with 35 days between referral and death in the North, 55 in the Midlands and the East, and 49-55 days in London and the South East.

Among the other sessions of today's conference are Cormac Russell's talk on returning death to community, how hospices can embrace digital technology, and how care providers can share skills to reach more people. 

For more information visit Hospice UK National Conference 2017

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