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A dignified death?

12th April 2006

12042006_hands_young_old.jpgA survey by the Health Service Journal and the Nursing Times for Help the Aged suggested that many elderly people are left without proper palliative care and end up dying undignified deaths. Many elderly fear being left on a geriatric ward to die. This comes at the same time as a report by the Department of Health showing some progress in end of life care.
 
Half of the 800 health workers polled said there were no end of life policies at their places of work. A quarter said they struggled to cope with dying patients and 57% said they lacked training and support.

Two thirds of health professionals said the care given to elderly patients with cancer, heart disease or dementia was much worse than the care given to younger patients with similar conditions.

Also 69% admitted that many conditions suffered by the elderly were overlooked, for example dementia, arthritis and sensory impairment. Half said access to palliative care was worse for the elderly.

Director of policy at Help the Aged Paul Cann said that front-line staff are working under much pressure, often with little training and support, making it nearly impossible for them to dedicate the quality of care needed by older, dying patients.

He added that the charity wanted to see equity in healthcare and an end to inherent discriminatory assumptions that just because a patient is old, then death is inevitable, and therefore not worth time and concern.

However the research comes as the Department of Health released its progress report on the NHS end of life care programme which has had an investment of £12m.

The programme was designed to improve end of life care for all patients, to provide greater choice for patients in their place of care and death, and to reduce the number of emergency admissions for those who have expressed a wish to die at home. It also aimed to reduce the number of patients transferred from care homes to acute care in the last week of life. It set out to improve training so that professionals could deliver better end of life care.

The Department of Health says in the report that it is making progress, and sites examples of innovative care. At the end of 2005 60% of hospitals, 28% of GPs and 47% of hospices had introduced the relevant guidance, though only 1% of care homes had done so. Two thirds of hospital Trusts have implemented the recommended Liverpool Care Pathway in at least one ward.

The National Director for older people, Professor Ian Philp said that the report highlights excellent progress in rolling out best practice care and training models to GPs, hospitals, hospices and care homes.

He acknowledged that there is still a long way to go before all staff are trained and all patients benefit.

 

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