Fabian Hamilton MP: Free end of life care - a compassionate policy
Fabian Hamilton MP says introducing free social care for people at the end of life would allow them to focus on family not finances.
It was fantastic to hear Andy Burnham at conference in September back up the commitment he made the previous year to introduce free social care at the end of life, by setting out further details on free social care.
It is a sad fact that despite the majority of people at the end of life (79 percent according to the Office of National Statistics) wanting to die at home, less than a quarter are able to. This policy would change all that. The Palliative Care Funding Review suggested that free social care is key to support people at the end of life to die at home and that creating additional staff to deliver it would only improve people’s quality of life during this time.
But what support will people be receiving? Social care includes help with things like eating, washing and going to the toilet. It could be argued that this should be provided by family members, but not everyone has family able to support them and who will be there to support those family members when things get tough? Who goes to the shops to pick up groceries while they are tending to their terminally-ill loved one?
Without support, carers can be left to fend for themselves which can all too often lead to them struggling to cope and the person at the end of life being admitted to hospital unnecessarily.
Currently, social care is means-tested and therefore only available to a limited number of people. Making it free to everyone at the end of life is a compassionate policy which will allow people to spend their final weeks and days focusing on their loved ones rather than worrying about finances and filling out complicated forms.
The homecare workers will also help to prevent unnecessary hospital admissions. Sometimes someone’s condition at the end of life can change in a perfectly normal way, such as a change in breathing, and their family can panic and call the emergency services. The presence of specially-trained palliative homecare workers will mean that questions and concerns can be personally answered in a timely way, easing pressure on our overstretched hospitals.
In addition, supporting people to die at home is cheaper than caring for them in hospital at the end of life. The cost of a hospital bed is significantly more than the cost of a package of care at home.
Macmillan Cancer Supportestimates that free social care at the end of life, delivered as part of a package of wider care, could save the NHS £345 million a year and give many more people the choice to die at home. However, if nothing changes, the charity estimates that by the end of the next parliament in 2020 approximately 1.3 million people will have died in hospital who wanted to die at home.
A commitment at this year’s party conference is a big step towards making this policy a welcome reality. The next step is to show that we are serious about this by including a commitment to free social care at the end of life in our manifesto.