Marie Curie, the UK’s leading end-of-life charity, has released a report stating there is an urgent need to improve palliative care services to prepare for a future increase in demand. It predicts that in 25 years, as many as one person a minute will die with palliative care needs and, at the moment, supply does not meet the demand.
Number of over 85-year-olds to increase by 92% in 25 years
The report, released in July 2023, states that 90% of people who die in the UK are expected to need palliative care. It also states that the number of over 85-year-olds living in the UK is expected to increase by 92% in the next 25 years, by 2048.
The charity, which provides care and support through terminal illness, has said that, of the 90% of people who need palliative care, a quarter of them die without receiving the support they need. Members of the Marie Curie team have analysed trends and predict that by 2048, the number of people needing palliative care will increase by over 147,000.
Matthew Reed, CEO of the UK charity said “At Marie Curie we’re troubled that there’s a gap around people who are not getting the end of life care they need, and that gap is getting bigger, particularly for the poorest communities. Every year, more and more people will be dependent on end of life care – we are going to spend longer in the last chapter of life, with more complex health needs”.
A broken system that needs fixing
Reed continues “The UK has an end of life problem that is about to overwhelm the NHS […] The system we have at the minute does not reflect who we are as human beings, and it is also the most expensive way we could possibly think of doing things – distressed families call 111 and the ambulance service, who are often not best placed to be able to deal with end of life care, so they take people to hospital, which is rarely the best place for dying people to be”.
“What is needed is more – much more – support for people in their own homes. That care is often better, and cheaper, than what is available in hospital”.
Impact of comments on assisted suicide debate
This report and comments from the CEO shed light on a number of areas of concern in the current assisted suicide debate in the UK.
In a recent parliamentary inquiry hearing, Dr Matthew Doré, Honorary Secretary at the Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland, called it “bonkers” to make assisted suicide legal on the NHS whilst continuing to fund palliative care through charities.
The Association of Palliative Medicine (APM) has also warned that the public is being “scared” into supporting assisted suicide by an excessive focus in the media on cases of suffering at the end of life, while coverage of well-delivered palliative care is ignored.
Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said “The findings of the Marie Curie report demonstrate a clear need for health planning to take into account a rapidly ageing population”.
“It is clear that the introduction of any forms of assisted suicide and euthanasia alongside inadequate palliative care is unacceptable. Many argue in favour of assisted suicide on the grounds of autonomy and choice. However, while palliative care services are lacking, it seems far more likely that people would be tempted to prematurely end their lives out of a feeling that there was no other option”.
“Parliament must continue to reject all attempts to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia whilst supporting robust provision of effective palliative care for all”.