Living with Dying

Insufficient hospice care

A large percentage of people in the UK still die in hospital 47%, 23% of people die in their own home. Only 6% of people die in a hospice (The National End of Life Care Intelligence Network - Variations in Place of Death in England December 2016).

It is now NHS policy that everyone with a life-threatening illness should have access to appropriate palliative care services, the current government strategy is to support more people dying at home.

“70% of people would prefer to die at home” - Dying Matters March 2017.

Of those who are admitted to hospice care in the UK almost all have a diagnosis of cancer. This is partly because of funding (which relies strongly on cancer charities), partly because less is known about the needs of non-cancer patients, and partly because it can be very hard to estimate how long non-cancer patients are likely to live. While there are limited hospice beds and the majority are short stay units the current approach is to admit patients on the basis of their need (i.e. difficult symptom control and/or immediate dying) rather than their type of disease (e.g. cancer).

Even those with cancer may find it hard to obtain a bed in a hospice when it is needed. One woman we talked to, who had breast cancer, spent a month in a hospice. She went home and assumed that she would be able to pick up the phone and go back to the hospice if she needed to, but was disappointed to find that this was not so. She said that if she became very ill she might be offered a palliative care bed at the local hospital, but not a bed in the hospice.

Patients who don't have cancer find it even harder to find a bed in a hospice. Some of the people we talked to had distressing symptoms and believed they would benefit from hospice care. A woman with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (lung disease) explained why she would like to have the opportunity to enter a hospice or a similar place when the need arose.

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Another woman, who also had lung disease, explained why she would like to have the option of hospice care. She wanted to die with dignity, in a peaceful setting, with help and support, and she wanted good pain control. She also wanted pastoral care to prepare for her death, and support for her teenage children. She was angry about inequalities in funding and her inability to find a bed in a hospice.

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated July 2017.

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