College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Call for better end-of-life support

University researchers are calling for improved emotional care for patients approaching the end of their life.

A new study by the researchers found that these patients often do not receive adequate care for their emotional needs.

Most people who die from illnesses other than cancer never have a conversation with medical staff about how they might be cared for in their last months, they discovered.

This lack of planning and support can place unnecessary stress on the patients’ families, according to the study.

This study shows that patients with a number of terminal illnesses who appeared to be approaching the end of their lives had the most need for coordinated, joined-up health care. Yet they were usually the least likely to receive it.

Professor Scott MurraySt Columba's Hospice Chair of Primary Palliative Care at the University of Edinburgh

Needing care

Researchers interviewed patients and doctors about their experiences of care in the year before they died and asked patients’ families to track all their dealings with the NHS.

They found that although 80 per cent of patients with advanced illnesses are likely to have two or three medical conditions simultaneously, there is often a failure to co-ordinate patients’ medical care and to prepare them for likely events.

Researchers found that the absence of care plans can lead to unnecessary hospital admissions and may prevent patients from dying at home as many would wish to do.

The findings highlight the need for GPs to sensitively identify patients who may be approaching the last year of their lives, and to discuss with them how they would like to be cared for.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Services & Delivery Research Programme and involved researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Warwick, Cambridge and Kings College London.

If patients and doctors felt more able to talk together and discuss their wishes, then health services could be much better coordinated and responsive to patients’ choices.

Professor Scott MurraySt Columba's Hospice Chair of Primary Palliative Care at the University of Edinburgh