The importance of the Access to Palliative Care Bill 2015

By Mark Steedman from the Institute of Global Health Innovation

eolcThe Access to Palliative Care Bill is to be given its second reading tomorrow (23rd October). While palliative care is widely viewed to be excellent in the UK, there are gaps in access to it, and this Bill hopes to eliminate these gaps.

The Bill’s stated aim is to “make provision for equitable access to palliative care services; for advancing education, training and research in palliative care; and for connected purposes”.

I’ve now worked in palliative care for two and a half years, and despite the knowledge I’ve gained and the progress I’ve seen, I’m still amazed at the reception I get when I speak at conferences. The disparity in the quality of care people receive around the world is staggering, particularly when people are in pain at the end of their lives, yet very few people are aware of this fact. Four billion people in the world don’t have access to opioids, and the chances of needing strong pain medication at the end of your life if you’re suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, or any number of other diseases is way too high for this to be tolerated.

Most presentations I give are not to palliative care experts – they’re either to the general public or to a specific segment of the medical community – the most recent to a room full of liver experts. I know very little about the liver, and yet at the end of my talk I received so many questions that the moderator had to eventually move on due to time. How can so many people who know so much about cancer, HCV, and other liver diseases not know how people are cared for once all curative treatment options are exhausted? It can be a bit disheartening, but I’m always encouraged that I feel that everyone has learned something when I’ve finished. I’m also encouraged that audience members often come up to me afterward and thanked me for spreading the word.

Death is something everyone experiences, but so few people die with the dignity everyone deserves at the end of their life.  It seems that today is a perfect opportunity to challenge everyone who works in palliative care to educate someone, preferably someone they don’t know, about the importance of palliative care. We are a small community, but we’re growing, and it’s up to us to continue to advocate and bring attention to such a noble cause.

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