Data analysed by the terminal illness charity, Marie Curie, reveals that of all the emergency hospital admissions in Britain approximately one in four is for someone in their last year of life. As the NHS prepares for the onset of winter pressures, this equates to one admission every 20 seconds of a patient for whom this will be their last Christmas.
The data from the NHS in England, Wales and Scotland, paints a grim picture for patients with a terminal diagnosis who can expect to spend, on average, up to three weeks of precious life stuck on a hospital ward.
How often patients are taken to hospital and how long they spend there depends on the illness a person has and where they live. For example, people with dementia in Wales spent, on average, one month of their last year of life in hospital – far higher than in England and Scotland.
Lung disease patients in England were taken to hospital twice as often as people in Scotland with the same condition. Cancer patients in Scotland, however, will spend longer in hospital than the national average.
The data also shows that cancer patients have more emergency admissions in their last year of life than those with a non-cancer diagnosis, however, non-cancer patients will experience longer stays in hospital with each visit.
The charity says that more innovative models of care in hospitals, along with better provision of high-quality care in the community, can help get people home from hospital quicker and keep them safe at home. In doing this someone will only get rushed to hospital when they absolutely need to be, resulting in a better quality of life and a much more effective use of already stretched NHS resources.
Simon Jones, Director of Policy and Public affairs at Marie Curie, said:
“Behind each emergency admission of someone approaching the end of life is a family in crisis. There’s a family whose loved one wants to be at home with the people they love, making the most of the time they have left. Tragically, this winter, many people will be taken to hospital when they don’t want or need to be there. This is how they will be spending their last Christmas.
“Many of the admissions to hospital for these people could be avoided if high-quality care had been available to them in the community. Even worse is the fact that these patients will be known to their local health and social care professionals. The system knows them, knows what level of care they need but continues to let them down.”
The charity says that there are pockets of innovation dotted around Britain where hospital initiatives get people home quickly, and community care teams keep hospital admissions to a minimum. In an upcoming report, Marie Curie concludes that health and social care services need to work together to provide the care and support which is needed either to avoid an admission or facilitate an earlier discharge for those patients with limited time left.