Dying people need better support from health services, says The King's Fund

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'Dying people are not afforded nearly enough emotional, practical or spiritual support by the NHS', The King's Fund chief executive Rabbi Julia Neuberger said today.

Speaking at the launch of a King's Fund discussion paper, Psychosocial support for dying people: what can primary care trusts do?, Julia Neuberger said:

'People with terminal illnesses need more than good medication in their final months and weeks of life. They very often want to get help in coming to terms with their death, in choosing where they die, in making funeral arrangements and in day-to-day tasks such as cleaning and shopping. Yet psychosocial support of this type is patchy, especially for those dying of illnesses other than cancer.'

The discussion paper shows that access to psychosocial support is very limited. Hospice and other specialist palliative care services provide excellent support, but for only a small proportion of those who need it. For everyone else, support has to be obtained from friends and families, GP surgeries, district nurses, social services and local voluntary groups – all of which have limited time to give.

The biggest gap is in the provision of care to people in their own homes. This denies many the opportunity to die at home, as hospital becomes their only option. Julia Neuberger commented:

'As part of their new responsibility for the full range of health services in their areas, primary care trusts (PCTs) should look to fill the gaps in psychosocial support. By learning from some of the good practice illustrated in our discussion paper, PCTs can go a long way towards giving dying people back some control over what happens in their lives and towards making their end as peaceful and as in accord with their own wishes as is humanly possible.'

The discussion paper calls for more investment in district nursing services so that help can be offered to all of those who need it at any time of day or night. It also suggests that PCTs work with social services, voluntary and community groups to offer a wider range of support to people from all sections of society.

Notes to editors

Psychosocial support for dying people: What can primary care trusts do? is by Cathy Shipman, Ros Levenson and Steve Gillam.

It will be launched at a breakfast discussion at the King's Fund, 11-13 Cavendish Square, London W1 on Wednesday, 17 July 2002 from 8.30 until 10am. Journalists and photographers are cordially invited to attend.

For review copies of the discussion paper or interviews with the authors please contact Andrew Bell on 020 7307 2585 or 07831 554931.