As Britain’s ageing population grows older, with many of us increasingly facing the prospect of dying alone, one of the UK’s leading hospices, Somerset-based St Margaret’s, is holding a unique summit today (Friday Oct 30th) supported by two major national charities. The aim is to confront, assess and tackle the mounting challenges facing the critical provision of end-of-life care.
St Margaret’s Hospice, which has bases in Taunton and Yeovil, is bringing together leading healthcare experts, carers, national cancer charities, families, patient representatives, church leaders, academics, neighbouring hospices, politicians and the local authority, to assess the action that is needed now to support palliative care provision in the future. It comes at a time the county and the UK is facing up to the dual challenge of funding cuts and increasing health and social care needs as we live longer.
This summit marks the launch of the ‘Fit for the Future’ review being chaired by Lord Ashdown, one of St Margaret’s Vice Presidents. This will represent one of the largest community engagement programmes anywhere in the country to provide a blueprint for better and more efficient palliative care for our county and gives a lead as to how this may be done for the whole of the UK.
Somerset is very much in the spotlight when it comes to future healthcare challenges as it has one of the biggest ageing populations in the UK. By 2033, most of the county is likely to have at least 25% of the population over 65 and it is projected that there will be as many people in their 80s as in their 20s (source ONS).
In the next 15 years, it is predicted that, without reform to the way we do things, around 40% of the population will die alone without adequate care and support.
St Margaret’s Chief Executive Ann Lee said: “Research has shown that dying alone and in pain are the UK’s greatest fears, ahead of actually being told you are dying*. There are other issues such as continuity of care, insufficient carers, carer fatigue and adequate supportive homecare, not just for the elderly and cancer patients but others who have a life threatening illness.
“In Somerset, our demographic suggests we will see a significant increase in the numbers of patients in need of palliative care above the current position of 5,000 a year, which is already a challenge.
“The cost of care is overtaking our capacity to generate additional charitable income. This is exacerbated by the risk in the falling value of our NHS funding. This is a pattern that is happening across the country. Consultation will help us identify where there are gaps in the provision of care and where we can improve the way we work with the network, from GPs and hospitals through to families and carers.”
The review is being supported by the UK’s leading cancer charities, Macmillan Cancer Care and Marie Curie Cancer Care, who will both be represented on the panel.
Over the next six months, a series of community focus groups are being held across the county that will form the basis of the review into how care provision can be improved. Views are also being sought from the wider community via a number of social media platforms such as Facebook and through St Margaret’s Fit for the Future website.
Lord Ashdown, who has been a Vice President of St Margaret’s for over twenty years and concludes: “I am very proud to be leading this important review. We will need to reform and determine how we can reduce the cost of delivering patient care without compromising care quality. Everyone will die eventually, no other area of healthcare has this 100% certainty. If we don’t tackle this now, it will mean less care and more suffering in the future. The work we are undertaking is literally vital for our County and its people in years to come. I am delighted that Somerset is leading the way.”