What a breath of fresh it is to learn that the UK’s health services have been named best in the world for palliative care.
At a time when the NHS and Primary Care Trusts are under constant scrutiny with failings in care, budget cuts and general discontent amongst doctors and other employees, it’s good to know that we are getting something right.
The report by the Economist Intelligence Unit assessed counties around the world in various aspects of end of life care, including the quality of the hospital environment, staffing levels and skills, affordability and the quality of care. The UK scored 93.9 out of 100, closely followed by Australia with 91.6 points. The worst performer was Iraq, with a score of only 12.5, whilst China also made the bottom ten with its score of 23.3.
It is no surprise that wealthier western countries took the top spots, with the UK being particularly praised for the amount of free services provided by hospices and hospitals. We have the NHS and generous charitable donations to thank for that. But an ageing population presents great difficulties when it comes to keeping up with demand, and India and China are thought to have fallen foul of a rapid growth in population, but a lack of investment in services needed to sustain older populations.
The author of the report, Annie Pennelay, is quoted as saying “The UK is an acknowledged leader in palliative care. That reflects its comprehensive strategy towards the issue as well as the improvements that are being made”. But Ms Pennelay went on to say that improvements could still be made in terms of communication and symptom control.
But will we be able to sustain the palliative care provision in the future? It’s a very unattractive predicament, but can we really continue to care so well for the dying when those at early stages of illness are at risk through overcrowded A&E departments, lack of beds and cutbacks in social care? The answer should be that it makes no difference, but that’s highly unlikely to be the reality, there is simply not enough money for everything…
When commenting on the study, Dr Stephen Connor of the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance said:
The biggest problem that persists is that our healthcare systems are designed to provide acute care when what we need is chronic care.
Until now we in the UK may have been an exception to that rule, but as the government turns the NHS’ head to focus on A&E, weekend working and 7 day GP surgeries, will our noble efforts to ensure the best of care and dignity to our most frail and vulnerable fade away?
Time will tell. But in the meantime we should all take a moment to recognise the fantastic work that nurses, doctors, volunteers, charities and the wider NHS do to ensure that we all have the benefit of saying goodbye to loved ones in the most dignified and pain free way possible. No monetary value can be, and never should be, placed on that.