07/12/2011 05:41 GMT | Updated 07/12/2011 05:41 GMT

Staff Shortages Pose Risk For Terminally Ill

Specialist care of the dying may be put at risk in the future because of a recruitment crisis, a health charity has warned.

An ageing nursing workforce combined with staff shortages could pose serious problems for specialist care of the terminally ill, the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) said.

A survey by the charity has shown that the number of specialist palliative care nurses fell by 6.9% from 2008 to 2010.

The study also showed an average vacancy rate among specialist palliative care nurses of 8.7% and among specialist palliative care consultants of 7.8%.

Almost four out of 10, or 39.2%, of specialist palliative care nurses were over the age of 50, as were 44.7% of social workers, 36.3% of physiotherapists and 25.3% of occupational therapists. More than a quarter, or 27.5%, of specialist palliative care consultants were aged over 50.

The findings come as the number of people dying each year is predicted to increase from about 500,000 to 586,000 in England and Wales by 2030, the charity said.

Simon Chapman, NCPC director of policy and parliamentary affairs, said: "With someone in England dying every minute, many of us will one day require specialist palliative care.

"Although we are fortunate to be able to count on a great many experienced staff and a growing recognition that end-of-life care must be everyone's business, an ageing palliative care workforce could pose real recruitment and training problems in the future and needs to be urgently addressed."

Eve Richardson, NCPC chief executive, said: "The care of dying people will be seriously threatened without a greater focus on recruitment of palliative care specialists.

"We only get one chance to get end-of-life care right, which is why the concerns we have raised must be treated as a real priority."