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Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Hospices 'not places to die'
Hospices can provide a wide range of care
Most people mistakenly still see hospices as depressing places where patients go to die, according to a survey.

The research, by the chairty Marie Curie Cancer Care, found that the majority of people did not realise that half of all patients who are treated in a hospice actually go home after a stay - and in the great majority of cases not to die.

The expert care that hospices offer can control the symptoms of terminal illness, and help people lead a better quality of life.

The charity has blamed the misconception on doctors and nurses, who they say often delay referring patients for hospice care because they do not think they are ill enough.

Hospices offer help with physical, psychological or social problems for those with advanced disease

Dr Teresa Tate, Marie Curie Cancer Care

The hospice movement is keen to revamp its image and to stress that it offers much more than just pain relief and a place to die.

For instance, many hospices have day centres where people can participate in art and pottery workshops.

'No chance' of returning home

The survey found that 27% of people in the UK believe that once patients enter a hospice, they have "no chance" of returning home.

Only 8% of the 2,100 people questioned were aware that half the patients go home after stay in a hospice.

Just half of the public was aware that hospices offered counselling and welfare support services.

And less than one in five realised patients could drink alcohol, have alternative therapies or even go on day trips.

Dr Teresa Tate, medical adviser at Marie Curie, said: "The stereotypical idea of a hospice as a sombre institution where people go to die doesn't in any way reflect the reality.

"Hospices offer help with physical, psychological or social problems for those with advanced disease.

"Unfortunately, many medical professionals believe hospices are only for people very close to death."

She added: "This misunderstanding can result in patients and families struggling unnecessarily with symptoms such as pain and psychological distress because their doctor doesn't think they are `ill enough' to go to a hospice."

Expert care

Dr Polly Edmonds, a consultant in palliative care at King's College Hospital, London, said she was trying to encourage more health professionals to admit terminally ill patients to hospices to improve their quality of life.

She said that there was a misconception among health professionals that hospices provided nursing home care, when in fact they were highly skilled in managing the symptoms of terminal illness.

She told BBC News Online: "Hospice beds should only be used for patients with specific palliative care needs, whether those are physical or psycho-social.

"Many admissions are fairly short, for 10 days to two weeks, and about 50% of admissions go home."

A total of 2,100 people in the UK were questioned for the survey.

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