Palliative medicine expert urges Government to end ‘postcode lottery’ in hospice care

The NHS should fund hospice care to end the “postcode lottery” in end-of-life support, ministers have been urged.

Independent crossbench peer Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (pictured), a doctor and professor of palliative medicine, said the law needs to change to improve access to hospice care.

Debating her Access to Palliative Care and Treatment of Children Bill in the Lords, she called on the Government to show it is “determined to ensure good palliative end-of-life care to everyone, everywhere”.

Tory peer and surgeon Lord Ribeiro said the Bill would help to end the “postcode lottery” of hospice provision across the country.

He said: “Hospices in the main are supported by charities and the public, with the NHS providing about a third of cost of adult hospices.

“There are, I believe, 200 hospices in the UK collectively caring for 225,000 people and their families per year – 80% is delivered in the patients’ home.

“It is time to provide a comprehensive, nationwide service from which all benefit.”

He added: “This Bill will ensure that access to hospice care is not determined by a postcode lottery where some areas are better provided for than others.”

Independent crossbench peer Baroness Meacher said: “We all fear an unbearable death, I certainly do and we would all lead happier lives as well as dying better, without the need for that fear.”

Crossbencher Lord Stirrup, a former chief of the defence staff, told peers about his family’s experiences of hospice care.

He added: “My father spent his final days in a hospice and while his death was, of course, a matter of great sadness, the care he received, mental as well as physical, helped not only him but his family as well to deal with an inevitable but always traumatic aspect of life.

“And this last point is crucial. Death is an inevitable, inescapable part of everyone’s life and we as a society should recognise that quality of death is an integral part of quality of life.”

Responding, health minister Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford said the Bill would restrict the autonomy of health commissioners and therefore the Government opposed it.

She said: “At the moment no other clinical area is currently provided for in such a detailed and prescriptive way as this Bill would create.”

She added: “Legislating in this kind of detail as to what a local commissioner must provide with regard to clinical area is contrary to the principle of autonomy which was established in the primary legislation of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.”

The Bill passed its second reading without a vote. However, without Government support, it is unlikely to make further progress.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Gresham College.