Rise in patient numbers for specialist palliative care

Jun 03, 2015

Increasing numbers of people are accessing specialist palliative care across all settings – especially community-based services – according to a new report out today from the National Council for Palliative Care, Public Health England and Hospice UK.

Latest figures from the authoritative Minimum Data Set for Specialist Palliative Care (MDS) for 2013-14 show that the average number of patients per service has risen for all specialist palliative care settings and service types since 2008.

Community care specialist palliative services in particular are seeing increasing numbers of people, in line with moves to enable more people to be cared for at home. Dementia is becoming an increasing issue for community care specialist palliative care teams, with five times as many people with dementia accessing community services in 2013-14 compared with 2008-09. The proportion of older people (aged 85 and older) seen by community teams has also continued to increase, as it has for hospital support teams.

However, the MDS report shows that not everyone yet has equal access to specialist palliative care. While there has been a notable increase since 2008 in people with diagnoses other than cancer accessing specialist palliative care, the rate of change is still slow and there is variability between services. People with cancer are still far more likely to access specialist palliative care than those with other terminal conditions, and the disparity is more pronounced in inpatient settings where just 13% people seen had a diagnosis other than cancer. In contrast more than a quarter of people seen in specialist palliative care outpatient settings had a terminal diagnosis other than cancer.

Despite efforts to improve data quality, the report highlights the need to continue to improve the quality and use of data, especially relating to ethnicity which is not collected across all settings. Available evidence does, however, show that the numbers of people from BAME communities accessing specialist palliative care appears to remain disproportionately low. 

Speaking today Claire Henry, Chief Executive of the National Council for Palliative Care said:

“Specialist palliative care can make a real difference to people’s lives, which is why it’s so important that it is accessible to all those who stand to benefit from it, regardless of who they are, where they live or what their condition is. Although there has been encouraging progress in opening up access to specialist palliative care, many people still aren’t able to access the services and support they need. That’s why getting end of life care right must be a priority for policymakers and for all those involved in commissioning or providing services.”

Antonia Bunnin, Director of Hospice Support and Development, Hospice UK added:

“Demographic changes mean that the numbers of people needing palliative care will inevitably continue to rise. The MDS report provides valuable information about current services and who is using them.  It is vital that hospices and other palliative care providers take heed of these findings and act now to ensure that their services are available and accessible to all who need them in their local populations.”

Professor Julia Verne, Clinical Lead – National End of Life Care Intelligence Network, PHE said:

“As the need for specialist palliative care rises, providers and hospices play a crucial role in taking action on these findings. It’s vital that our services are accessible for all. Not just so we can ensure that everyone gets the care they need, but also to ensure we are closing the gap on health inequalities and variability between services.”

The full set of MDS reports – including separate reports for inpatients, day care, community care, hospital support, outpatients and bereavement support – can be downloaded from the Hospice UK website.

Notes to Editor

  • For all media enquiries including to arrange an interview please contact Joe Levenson, Director of Communications at the National Council for Palliative Care on 020 7697 1520 or 07795 158 003.
  • The Minimum Data Set Specialist Palliative Care covers over 400 providers of specialist palliative care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including hospices and hospitals. Services voluntarily submit data on an annual basis and the completeness of the data varies from year to year.
  • The National Council for Palliative Care is the umbrella charity for all those involved in palliative, end of life and hospice care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It also leads the Dying Matters Coalition which aims to raise public awareness about the importance of talking more openly about dying, death and bereavement and of making end of life wishes known.
  • Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation's health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Twitter:@PHE_uk Facebook: www.facebook.com/PublicHealthEngland
  • Hospice UK is the national charity for hospice care and the only membership body for organisations providing hospice care. We support and champion the work of more than 200 of these organisations across the UK. For further information about hospice care follow on Twitter@hospiceukPA.

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