Many people live a happy and full life. Then, their memories can be tragically overshadowed by a bad end of life experience. For others, life has always been harder, living, for example, in poor housing. These problems don’t dimmish in the last chapter of life. On the contrary they exacerbate an already difficult time.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Everyone deserves the best end of life possible. To ensure that people are able to die as well as possible with regard to what matters most to them we need the whole health and social care system to work as one, and not see the end-of-life care sector as a separate, awkward add-on.
Education, Education, Education
Every health and social care worker will be involved in caring for people who are dying at some point in their career. Shockingly, end of life care is not a compulsory part of many clinicians initial training or continuing professional development. We need a greater focus on educating and upskilling non-specialist health and social care professionals in palliative care approaches and create new, unified service models.
Vital Care Needs Sustainable Funding
The pandemic has pulled into sharp focus the importance of good care for people who are at the end of their lives. But charitable hospices and community services, who are the main providers of specialist end of life care for many people, receive on average, just 30% of their funding from the Government. They rely on the generous donations of the public to keep these vital services afloat. I am growing increasingly concerned about the long-term sustainability of a healthcare model which relies so heavily on charitable giving.
The time to fix care is now
I believe it should be a fundamental right that everyone should be able to access end of life care services when they need it. However, this right can only be met if the relevant authorities commission sufficient services to meet people’s needs. Sadly, despite the learnings from the past year, the Government is yet to outline a sustainable solution on social care funding.
The Health and Care Bill has promising plans for a joined-up approach for providing social care but this can only be done if there is budget to do so. We know that 100,000 more people a year are expected to die over the next 20 years’ time and people are increasingly expressing the desire to spend the last days of their life at home. In order for these needs to be met, and for end of life care in the UK to be resilient, the Government needs to prioritise a sustainable funding model.
Covid-19 hit poorer communities hardest. Our research shows that marginalised communities are more likely to miss out on care at the end, and the APPG on Terminal Illness has reported that people are dying in poverty and squalor. These problems will not be fixed with an improved health and social care system alone. The goal of a good end of life experience for all can only be achieved if this is acknowledged, otherwise this injustice will continue. Governments must act if they truly want to “level up”.
The pandemic has presented us with a unique opportunity. Now stakeholders must morally, emotionally and financially grasp the moment. Now is the time to reach out for a better society that reflects the full dignity of each unique human being, including the last chapter of their life.
For information and resources on how to improve palliative care, visit our knowledge zone www.mariecurie.org.uk/professionals