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End-of-life care heading for ‘meltdown’ without cash boost, warns cancer charity chief

15,000 more cancer deaths in 2020 than in 2010, estimates Macmillan

Caroline White

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

End-of-life care is heading for a “meltdown” amid growing demand for services, warns the chief of a cancer charity, following a new analysis of projected deaths from the disease published today.

Nearly 144,000 people are expected to die of cancer in 2020, says Macmillan Cancer Support—equivalent to one person dying of the disease every four minutes,  with potentially 15,000 more cancer deaths in 2020 in England than in 2010.

The Macmillan forecast is based on a 10 year linear trend in crude cancer mortality rates between 2004 and 2013, and drawn from recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) population projections and past trends in cancer deaths from Public Health England.

It highlights the urgent need to tackle the country’s “deeply imperfect” approach to end-of-life care, says the charity.

Many dying patients currently lack adequate pain relief, are not being involved in vital decisions about their care, and are unable to die at home if they want to because they don’t get the necessary back-up, it says.

A 2010 Macmillan survey showed that most people with cancer (73%) would prefer to die in their own home, and yet less than a third (30%) are able to do so.

If people dying of cancer are to be spared further distress and pain, the government must invest in essential services, such as out-of-hours community services for people at the end of their life, as recommended in an independent landmark review of choice at the end-of-life, published last year, it says.

The government has yet to respond to the recommendations of the review. But as more people are diagnosed with cancer and the country’s population grows and ages, the situation is likely to worsen if immediate action is not taken, the charity warns.

Macmillan Cancer Support predicts that if the government takes no action to improve the situation, then nearly 65,000 people dying of cancer will experience poor overall care in their last three months of life over the next five years.

Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, described the figures as “shocking.” She added: "If the government really wants to improve end-of-life care for everybody, then investment is vital. If nothing is done and the country’s deeply imperfect arrangements continue, then end-of-life care is heading for a meltdown.”

This was why the government had to fund the recommendations set out in last year’s review, she said. “Without action now, thousands of people with cancer will not have the high quality, compassionate end-of-life care that everybody should experience.”

Simon Chapman, Director of Policy and External Affairs for the National Council for Palliative Care, said: "Although the majority of people die from conditions other than cancer, people with cancer are more likely to be able to access palliative and end-of-life care than others. Macmillan's warning of a looming crisis is therefore a serious concern for us all. 

"We repeat the call for the government to implement all the recommendations of the Choices Review as a matter of urgency. This must include making sure that access to palliative and end-of-life care is properly funded for everybody, regardless of their diagnosis, throughout the country.”

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