The national charity believes that the new programme could generate savings of up to £80 million per year for the NHS, as well as ensuring higher quality, better targeted care for dying people.
It is offering a partnership between the NHS and the hospice movement to fund six nationally co-ordinated pilot projects to evaluate the impact of hospice-led interventions in reducing unnecessary deaths in hospital.
The pilot projects would begin in April 2015, with the aims of national roll-out of the programme from April 2017.
Hospices around the UK are already helping to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and promote patient choice through a range of initiatives.
The new programme will be aimed at dying people who often fall through gaps in the care system and remain in hospital at the end of life because alternative options, such as hospice care, have not even been considered.
‘The default option’
Opening the press conference, Lord Howard, Chair of Help the Hospices, was pleased to announce that the government has already shown interest in the project: “Yesterday I wrote to the Secretary of State setting out our proposals and I’m pleased to say that we have already had a response inviting us to a meeting to discuss them,” he said.
“Hospital has become the default option for dying people and for an increasing number of frail elderly people. Hospital should be the last resort at the end of life, not the first one.This has resulted in inappropriate and often poor quality care that completely fails to support dying people’s actual needs and deprives them of alternative care options. It also places considerable pressure on the NHS, which is already straining at the seams,” he added.
Lord Howard suggested that hospices can provide the solution by leading moves to provide and facilitate alternative forms of care: “…whether through their own inpatient units or working closely with their local hospital to deliver alternative options. This will help ensure that people do not have to remain in a hospital bed at their end of life unnecessarily. It will result in better targeted, higher quality care for dying people, as well as being cost-effective for the NHS.”
Dr Ros Taylor, Director of the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire and also a trustee of Help the Hospices, added: “Hospices have a strong track record of providing excellent end of life care. They are the best placed organisations to spearhead a bold new approach to help improve the quality of care for dying people in the wider health care system.
“Hospices are already successfully delivering alternative models of care and also working with other organisations in their local communities to better co-ordinate care for dying people. However, this needs to be radically scaled up if our society is to address the crisis of care facing dying people and enable them to access the support they desperately need and deserve.”
Claire Henry, Chief Executive of the National Council for Palliative Care, welcomed the initiative and said: “We share [Help the Hospices] concerns about the importance of tackling the challenges in care for dying people. Despite some progress, far too many people are still not getting the end of life care and support that is right for them. We only have one chance to get it right for people who are dying, which is why there needs to be a much greater focus on meeting people’s end of life wishes, including by supporting more people to be cared for and die in the community rather than in hospital which for many people isn’t where they want to be.”
Norman Lamb, Minister of State for Care & Support also responded positively to today’s proposal. He said:
“We want to make sure that care for people nearing the end of their lives is compassionate and reflects their wishes, including their preferences about where they want to receive care. I welcome Help the Hospices’ commitment to improving care at the end of life and their willingness to work with the NHS.”
Despite welcoming Help the Hospices call to reduce the number of hospital deaths, leading children’s palliative care charity, Together for Short Lives, were keen to ensure that children and young children are also considered. A statement on the organisation’s website said:
“While the focus of this work is on terminally ill adults, we believe that it is equally important for children and young adults with life-limiting health conditions. All too often young adults with palliative care needs find themselves in unfamiliar hospital environments as they approach death rather than being supported to die in familiar surroundings. We want to see this change, so that children, young people and their families have real choice in place of death, where possible – whether this is in a hospice or being supported to die at home.”
This article was updated on 24 July at 10.25am.