University report explores efficacy of palliative care in England

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On the day the Government will respond to the Review into Choice at the End of Life1, the report by Sheffield Hallam’s Centre for Health and Social Care Research, says the reason behind the uncertainty is that not enough attention has been given to how policies are implemented.

The University’s State of the Nations report, funded by Marie Curie, reveals that since 2004 there have been 76 government publications impacting on terminal illness. It argues that this excess of information has diluted focus among commissioners and providers and this has made it difficult to ensure the consistency and quality of local end of life care services. 

The report’s authors say that, while there has been progress in some areas, national policy needs to be clearer and there should be a greater emphasis on evidence-based practice. They also note that there is a lack of clarity over the resources and budgets that should be provided to terminal illness care.

The report recommends that those commissioning services should be responsible for ensuring that services are delivered as intended and that there are appropriate frameworks in place to monitor and evaluate efficacy and quality.

Today’s publication and Government response also coincides with new data3 that shows more work is needed to ensure that services can meet the current level of need.  The data shows that the estimated numbers of, and proportion of deaths from conditions requiring palliative care, including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and senility, are increasing rapidly.

The analysis of national mortality data from 2012 to 2014 reveals that – at the very minimum – more than seven out of every ten people die from a condition that needs palliative care. When conditions that contributed to a person’s deaths are considered, as well as those that were the underlying cause, this rises to nine in every ten deaths. 

Dr Fliss Murtagh, reader and consultant in palliative medicine, Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London, said:“The new data analysis shows quite clearly that the number of people requiring palliative care is increasing rapidly. Palliative care therefore needs to be seen as a priority – it needs to be properly planned and resourced, otherwise those approaching the end of life will miss out on the care they need. I am pleased to see my work has been updated, and hope that these robust estimates of need will be used to underpin palliative care strategies going forward.”


Dr Jane Collins, chief executive for Marie Curie, said: “This new data shows us that the need for palliative care is continuing to increase as people die with more complex needs and conditions.  However, the Sheffield Hallam University report highlights that there has been little action to drive quality or choice from the Government despite a wealth of announcements and documents aimed at tackling this crucial issue.

“If we are going to help people demand better palliative care, the Government and NHS England must take account of the growing need for these services and deliver solutions which can be easily understood and accessed by those who need them.” – Chief Executive for Marie Curie.  

“Without this more people will go without the care they desperately need, more will die where they don’t want to and more families and friends will have their lives devastated by the negative experiences of their dying loved ones.”

Dr Julie Skilbeck, from Sheffield Hallam’s Centre for Health and Social Care Research, said: “England’s palliative and end of life care policies are key drivers for commissioning, planning and delivering services for people living with terminal illness. However, there are a large number of strategy and guidance documents in circulation.

“The profusion is making it extremely difficult for commissioners and practitioners to develop and implement services for people requiring end of life care. It is important that commissioners and practitioners in England have an overarching piece of guidance that is specific, and lasts long enough to be applicable to all palliative care services.”

For press information: Sarah Duce in the Sheffield Hallam University press office on 0114 225 4025 or email [email protected] 


  1. Government’s response to the Review into Choice at the End of Life, July 2016
  2. State of the Nations Report: Terminal Illness Care in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, Centre for Health and Social Care Research, Sheffield Hallam University, July 2016
  3. Palliative care and the UK nations. An updated assessment on need, policy and strategy – Implications for England, Marie Curie, July 2016

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