The Blog

Are You Concerned About the Availability of Hospice Care in the Future?

Does the need for hospice care seem a distant reality to you? Or is it something you have thought about and which you or your loved ones might need one day?

Are you concerned about the availability of hospice care in the future?

Does the need for hospice care seem a distant reality to you? Or is it something you have thought about and which you or your loved ones might need one day?

I ask, because Help the Hospices commissioned a survey looking at public attitudes towards hospice care, which shows there is considerable public concern about availability of hospice care in the future.

Firstly, to set this in context, the UK's population is rapidly getting older, with a rising number of people living well into their 80s and beyond, many with multiple, complex health conditions.

The number of people aged 85 and over alone is expected to double in the next 20 years and the number of centenarians is expected to increase more than eight-fold by 2035. In addition, more young people with life-shortening conditions are living for longer.

This "demographic ticking time bomb" presents huge challenges for hospices and other providers of health and social care.

The results of our poll - conducted by leading pollster Populus - which are launched this week showed that seven in ten people think demand for hospice care will "rocket" in coming decades because of the UK's rapidly ageing population.

Almost half of those surveyed (48 per cent) say they are concerned there won't be enough hospice care available in the future to support them or their loved ones if they need this. This rises to almost two thirds of people (63 per cent) among those aged 65 and over.

A further 16 per cent of people are "frightened" there won't be enough hospice care available in the future to support them or their loved ones.

Our survey also looked at perceptions of hospice care. We know that sometimes people view hospices as gloomy places. However, our survey shows the public views hospices very positively. More than two thirds of people (69 per cent) regard them as "a place that offers compassionate care". Only 12 per cent said they thought hospices were "depressing".

However, interestingly most people are not aware that hospice care is provided in a range of settings beyond hospices themselves. Less than a quarter of those surveyed (22 per cent) know it is available in people's homes, where in fact, the majority of hospice care is provided.

Our survey's findings are published as a new report recently launched by the Commission into the Future of Hospice Care highlights how demand for hospice care will surge over the next 10-15 years and calls on hospices to adapt and change the way they work so they are equipped to meet these challenges. It contains a series of recommended actions that hospices need to take over the next two to three years to prepare for these.

The Commission, set up by Help the Hospices, is composed of leading figures from within the hospice care sector. Its final report is the culmination of two years' work gathering evidence and views since it was first established in response to the publication of the Demos report "Dying for Change" in 2010.

A key recommendation is for hospices to become more agile in responding to emerging needs. This will include developing new models of care and adapting existing services to meet increasing and changing demands for their services. Some hospices are already leading the way on this, for example by proactively approaching local health and social commissioners and other partners to develop new approaches to deliver care.

Hospices enjoy a high degree of autonomy and many have operated independently of mainstream care for many years. Modern hospices grew out of a targeted and innovative response to tackling deficits in care for people facing the end of life and they have a strong history of innovation and evolving to meet people's needs.

Whilst this independence has been key to their creativity and innovation in the past, the Commission highlights how they now need to find a way of working more closely with organisations inside the NHS, local authorities, care homes and other voluntary organisations in the future to influence and contribute to the care services that support people with life-shortening conditions. Some hospices are already moving ahead on this, especially through staff education and training programmes to share their values and expertise in providing compassionate care aimed at hospitals.

Finally, the Commission also highlights demand from the public and care organisations for hospices to support more people with different conditions other than cancer, including "frail older people" and people with dementia, by working in partnership with other organisations.

The next few years will be critical for hospices in preparing for the demands of the UK's ageing population and the challenges it presents are not going to go away.

Hospices provide essential care and support to around 360,000 people each year. As demand begins to rise, it is more important than ever to make sure they continue to adapt and innovate to help people get the very best care possible at the end of life.

Jonathan Ellis is Director of Policy and Advocacy at national hospice charity Help the Hospices, which supports and champions more than 200 hospices across the UK.