On 18th January 2022, the House of Lords debated amendments to the Health and Care Bill. The Bishop of Carlisle spoke in the debate, supporting amendments tabled by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff that would require specialist palliative care units to be set up in the UK:
The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Patel. I am pleased to give my wholehearted support to Amendment 47 and to Amendment 52, to which I have added my name, which compellingly requires the commissioning of specialist palliative care services in every part of England. Throughout my life and work I have often had the privilege of being present with families and communities, supporting people of all ages through the final chapter of their life, so I have seen at first hand the enormous difference that high-quality palliative care can make to their experience of dying, death and bereavement.
However, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Masham, pointed out, 90% of people might need such care, but as things stand at present only about half of them will receive it. What is more, it is all too often those in our most deprived communities who are dying without the help and dignity they deserve.
To that end, a compelling body of evidence has been provided by Marie Curie, the end-of-life charity, which has been mentioned several times already in this debate. Building on that evidence, this amendment will not only prevent many people with a terminal illness dying in pain but deliver significant cost savings to the NHS by reducing unnecessary hospital admissions.
I believe that the Bill provides us with a great opportunity to improve palliative care for everyone. As we have heard, Clause 16 explicitly mentions several services that ICBs are required to commission—for instance, maternity and dentistry—but as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, made clear, it makes no direct reference to improving care and support for people living with a terminal illness.
It is also the case that, as we heard, of those 23 integrated care systems that have already published their strategies, only six have mentioned end-of-life care as a priority. That in itself speaks volumes. Yet we have been reminded that, as a result of our ageing population, in 20 years’ time there will be about 100,000 more people dying each year. The need for good palliative care will increase rapidly in years to come. This amendment will help ensure that the demand is met.
This amendment has attracted a great deal of support from professionals and the public, as well as providers. I urge the Government to accept it as a vital part of our commitment to care for everyone from birth to death, and to ensure that all have the best possible end-of-life experience, regardless of where they live.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Baroness Meacher (CB): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle. I give my very strong support to Amendment 47, to which I added my name, and Amendment 52. The key arguments have been extremely powerfully made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and others.
My main concern is to make it abundantly clear that I and everyone I know who supports assisted dying also want to see the highest possible quality of palliative care across the country—not some kind of patchwork, but universally. I, like all noble Lords, have witnessed wonderful palliative care but also what I might describe as substandard care of dying people. The difference to the patient and the relatives is unforgettable for everybody involved. I visited a beautiful hospice with a warm and professional atmosphere recently, but there were empty beds because it had not been able to raise enough money from whatever it was—jumble sales, et cetera. It is entirely unacceptable that hospices are expected to raise funds to provide their services.
As I said, I also support Amendment 52, which details the types of services that must be provided as part of this country’s commitment to providing accessible and excellent care. The inclusion of the definition of palliative care as provided by the World Health Organization would ensure statutory recognition for this most important aspect of healthcare.
Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie (Con): There is evidence, as we have heard, that people provided with early palliative care and support in all settings, as is laid out by Amendment 52, achieve better outcomes and, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle said, that it prevents unwarranted hospital admission. I would commend the Minister to look at the model in Scotland, where the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care brings together health and social care professionals from hospitals, social care services, primary care, hospices and other charities to find ways of improving people’s experiences of declining health, death, dying and bereavement.
Perhaps what differentiates palliative care from just good care is the awareness that a person’s mortality has started to influence clinical and more personal decision-making. However, I beg to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. This is not about the fact that we are all going to die; it is about life. It is about the care of someone who is alive—someone who still has hours, days, months or years remaining in their life. It is about optimising well-being in those circumstances.
A major problem for people who need and would benefit from specialist palliative care is that they are often referred very late to such services or not referred at all, because such services are erroneously perceived by many other professionals, and the public, as relevant only at the end of life. Unfortunately, access to specialist palliative care is therefore not available to people dying with neurological conditions. Although there has been some progress, most people dying with terminal or progressive neurological conditions die under the care of generalist health and social care teams, in hospitals, care homes or at home. The recent research by Marie Curie, quoted by many noble Lords this evening, points out the patchy access to palliative care, and people with neurological conditions are overrepresented in not being able to access it.
Lord Kamall (Con, Department of Health & Social Care): My Lords, as we reach the closing minutes of today’s debate and reflect on the wonderful contributions from across the Committee, perhaps it is fitting that we also talk about the final chapter of life, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle said.
As the Government see it, the integrated care boards should take on, and are taking on, the commissioning of palliative care once they replace CCGs. That is because palliative care is already part of the comprehensive health service under new Section 3 of the NHS Act 2006, which lists the services that ICBs will be required to commission.
Palliative care is—as noble Lords have acknowledged —a broad term, describing the various elements of care provided to minimise suffering and optimise the quality of life for people with a life-limiting illness. Those elements of care include hospital or other accommodation, medical services, nursing services and other services for the care of persons suffering from illness. These are things that an ICB already has a duty to commission under new Section 3 of NHS Act 2006, inserted by Clause 16 of this Bill.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle said that not all ICBs have been explicit about what they are doing in terms of commissioning palliative care. I will take that point back to the department, and I thank him for making me aware of it.
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