Palliative care law bid questioned

The need for legislation to improve palliative care services has been questioned in a new Scottish Parliament committee report.

The Health and Sport Committee is considering the Palliative Care (Scotland) Bill, which proposes specific statutory duties on the provision of such care.

The majority of committee members have agreed in the Stage One report that the general principles of the Bill should not be recommended to Parliament.

The committee said it shared the desire of MSP Gil Paterson, who introduced the Bill, to deliver improvements in care.

However, most members agreed that driving such change through primary legislation could have unintended consequences.

Christine Grahame, committee convener, said: “Introducing a specific statutory duty to provide palliative care, rigidly defined in legislation, could lead to a loss of flexibility in service provision.

“However, the Bill has sparked a very important debate about the future of palliative care in Scotland.

“We expect the Scottish Government to build on progress already being made through its existing Living and Dying Well action plan for palliative care and have asked for indicators to be established by March 2011 to allow its impact to be assessed.”

The report concluded the Bill did not establish a simple and unambiguous definition of palliative care, and the collation and publication of data on palliative care and end-of-life care does not require legislation.

The report also found the Bill’s proposals could prove more costly than predicted, and could lead to demands for other treatment areas to be given the same status as palliative care.