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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 October 2006, 00:29 GMT 01:29 UK
Demand for hospice care for dying
Hospice access is 'patchy', the report said in one of its findings
Urgent government action is needed to ensure everyone with a terminal illness has access to the care provided by hospices, a campaigning report says.

The charity Help the Hospices found many groups, including homeless people and those with learning difficulties, fail to access adequate services.

It blames problems with referral processes and lack of funding, and says provision varies around the country.

The Department of Health said a new end-of-life care stategy is planned.

Some statutory commissioners of care simply do not pay the true cost of the services they commission
Stephen Collinson

The charity's report found people living in remote rural areas often had difficulty accessing hospice services.

Good example

However, it also highlighted examples where hospices were trying to redress the balance, despite having limited resources.

Highland Hospice, which delivers palliative care to a region of Scotland which covers almost one-fifth of the UK landmass, offers several services aimed at overcoming geographical isolation.

Hospice consultants travel to outlying areas monthly, visiting community hospitals and patients in their own homes.

They also run monthly internet conferences with primary care teams and the hospice offers a 24-hour, seven day a week telephone support service.

The report also says some healthcare professionals may not know about hospice services.

A negative perception among some patients, who see hospices as simply a place to go to die is also a problem.

In particular, the report warns that some people from ethnic minority communites fear hospices cannot meet their specific needs.

There is also concern that it can be difficult for patients with diseases other than cancer to access palliative care.

The charity is calling for a revamp of referral systems, better co-ordination of care and improved training in palliative care for health professionals.

It also wants money to promote the role of hospices as educational resource centres for the wider healthcare system.

National strategy

David Praill, Help the Hospices chief executive, said hospices were working to improve services.

He added: "But they can't do this in isolation. Issues surrounding access to care need to be looked at as part of a national strategy for end of life care."

Stephen Collinson, of the charity Ryder Care, which provides end-of-life care, said: "We are dedicated to developing new and innovative services, such as addressing the end-of-life care needs of people who live with neurological conditions.

"However, our ability to develop these services in partnership with the state is seriously hampered by the fact that some statutory commissioners of care simply do not pay the true cost of the services they commission.

"This issue needs to be addressed to end the postcode lottery and form a sound infrastructure for the future."

A Department of Health spokesperson said the National Cancer Director and National Director for Older People were developing an end-of-life care strategy.

"This will deliver increased choice to all patients regardless of their condition, about where they live and die, and provide them with the support to make this possible. The strategy will include the role of hospices.

"We have also recently announced a fund of up to 40m, which adult hospices can bid for to improve their buildings."


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