Palliative Care: The importance of dying with dignity

Palliative care is finally starting to generate political interest with the first reading of the Palliative Health Care Bill in the House of Lords. It is estimated that there are 355,000 people in need of end of life care in the UK, and this debate is one that simply cannot be ignored any longer. A shift in awareness and attitudes is long overdue.

Palliative care is finally starting to generate political interest with the first reading of the Palliative Health Care Bill in the House of Lords. It is estimated that there are 355,000 people in need of end of life care in the UK, and this debate is one that simply cannot be ignored any longer. A shift in awareness and attitudes is long overdue.

The origins of the Bill lie in the recent ‘Dying without Dignity’ report, which was put together by the Health Service Ombudsman on behalf of policymakers in May 2015. The report, which has been made available to the public, highlighted the shocking state of end-of-life care in the UK. Serious failings were raised, ranging from a lack of communication between care providers and families, to numerous incidents in which patients’ pain has not been adequately managed.

The Palliative Care Bill aims to rectify this, and address the many challenges faced by the current system. It principally hopes to provide patients with access to palliative care irrespective of where they live, and ensure that it is available at any time. Healthcare in the UK has been subject to variations in standards by postcode for too long, and it is vital that a service as important as palliative care is available to all.

The Bill will ensure that patients’ decisions are central to their care. Key to this is making sure that staff are able to communicate effectively with patients who will undoubtedly be facing massive challenges and uncertainty.  What is clear is that training and education are crucial. Anyone working in palliative care must have the required knowledge to look after people nearing the end of their lives but almost as important is teaching care workers how to communicate and look after the families at the same time. It is good to see that the Bill has made provisions for training caregivers in how to handle sensitive communications.

As with any form of care, high standards are imperative and anyone failing to provide this should be held accountable. It is only with these checks in place that the industry ensures everyone is able to die with dignity.

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