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Palliative care to be made a legal right

Clarification: The original version of this article included a stock image posed by a model alongside an image of the UK Parliament. This inclusion of this image could have confused members of the public who may have thought the person in that image was the lead sponsor of the original palliative care amendment, Baroness Finlay, who is mentioned in the article. The team at Right To Life UK apologise for any confusion this has caused.

For the first time in NHS history, palliative care will become an explicit right for all people.

Last month, the Government backed an amendment to the Health and Care Bill which will require every part of England to provide specialist palliative care for patients.

The availability of palliative care currently varies significantly by region and condition, but this amendment will ensure that it is available to everyone as a right.

Baroness Ilora Finlay of Llandaff, a professor of palliative care medicine and author of the amendment, said: “This change is incredibly important. For the first time the NHS will be required to make sure that there are services to meet the palliative care needs of everyone for whom they have responsibility in an area. People need help early, when they need it, seven days a week — disease does not respect the clock or the calendar”.

She told the Lords that although “general basic palliative care should be a skill of every clinician”, specialist palliative care was a “relatively new specialty, which is why it was not included in the early NHS legislation”.

The amendment should solve the problem of patchy service across Britain by introducing a specific requirement for “services or facilities for palliative care” to be commissioned by integrated care boards, responsible for local services under the Government’s NHS reforms.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of Marie Curie, said: “If you need palliative and end-of-life care today, the chances of you getting the pain relief, symptom control and support for your family that you need depend largely on where you live, your ethnicity, gender and on what condition you have. This is wrong”.

“We welcome the news coming out of the Department of Health and Social Care… This change has the potential to end the current postcode lottery and make end-of-life care fair for all”.

Interim Chief Executive of Hospice UK, Craig Duncan, said: “The pandemic has shown us that how we die, where, and with what support is of the highest importance. It is absolutely right that palliative care services are put on the same footing as other areas of healthcare, such as maternity and dental services…”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Health and Social Care said: “Palliative care is essential to support people at the end of their lives, which is why we have tabled an amendment to make clear that integrated care boards are responsible for commissioning palliative and end-of-life care services”.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “We welcome this change and hope that it transforms the debate on assisted suicide and euthanasia. Palliative care has long been recognised as an essential aspect of healthcare particularly within the pro-life movement. Campaigners for assisted suicide and euthanasia frequently create a false choice between dying a painful death or assisted suicide. But good palliative care ensures that there need be no such choice”.

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