The NHS backlog is causing people to die before their time, with 86% of palliative care clinicians agreeing that some patients are now terminally ill due to either a late diagnosis or treatment delays.

The new report by the Association of Palliative Medicine (APM) and end of life charity, Marie Curie, is based on a survey to APM members to understand the impact the pandemic is having on care for dying people.

It found that 71% of survey respondents expressed a view that professionals were missing opportunities to refer patients, and 72% believed professionals were not recognising when patients need specialist palliative care.

Almost three quarters (73%) felt there had not been sufficient capacity to deliver specialist palliative in care homes and people’s own homes, and more than half (52%) said capacity had also been lacking in hospitals and hospices.

The ability of the sector to care for dying people in future looks set to plummet according to the report. An overwhelming majority of respondents (93%) felt either unconfident or unsure that there will be sufficient capacity to deliver high-quality specialist palliative care in ten years’ time with 57% saying they were unconfident or very unconfident about this. 

Dying patients are becoming collateral damage in this pandemic

Marie Curie is now calling for the Health and Care Bill to be amended so local NHS teams are legally required to provide specialist palliative care services across England.

Ruth Driscoll, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, at Marie Curie says: “This report makes clear that dying patients, whether newly diagnosed or not, are becoming collateral damage in this pandemic. The combination of gaps in palliative care and more people becoming terminally ill due to delays is frightening. Without action to provide proper care and support we can expect to see a generation of people dying in pain and without dignity in the coming years.

“As the House of Lords debates issues around the Health and Care Bill, we implore all parliamentarians to support our amendment to the bill. If passed, we can end the postcode lottery of care for the dying and make sure we are all able to access the vital care we need for our loved ones when the time comes.”

The survey was open to members of the Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland, from various roles in hospital and hospice settings as well as community settings such as consultants, speciality doctors, junior doctors and clinical nurse specialists. Respondents were most likely to practise in hospices (59%) followed by hospitals (47%) and the community (38%).  Fieldwork took place between 15th December 2021 and 5th January 2022 using an online methodology.