This week sees the launch of a new national framework- Ambitions for Palliative and End of Life Care - which sets out clearly the actions that local health, social care and community leaders need to take to ensure the delivery of high quality end of life care.
Published by the National Palliative and End of Life Care Partnership, it builds on the Department of Health's 2008 Strategy for End of Life Care and has been shaped to reflect how much the delivery of healthcare has changed since then.
Following the introduction of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 there is now far greater decision-making at local level in the delivery of palliative and end of life care services.
At national level, there has been a heightened focus on failings in end of life care, following key reports published earlier this year such as the harrowing findings of an investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman - Dying without dignity.
This highlighted many shocking cases of neglect and appalling care for dying people in a range of different care settings due to failures in care delivery staff competencies and care systems.
Everyone should have access to high quality care at the end of life, but too often that simply is not achieved. Making this type of care a bigger priority at local level is critical and so we greatly welcome and support both the aspirations and practical steps outlined in the new Ambitions framework.
Last year research by Hospice UK and National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC). showed that only around four in ten Health and Wellbeing Boards in England included the needs of dying people in their Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategies - their key strategies that shape health and social care services.
Whilst the challenges to improving end of life care are many, there are plenty of opportunities too, especially for organisations involved in the provision of end of life care to work together more closely.
Hospices have an excellent reputation for delivering high quality, compassionate care for dying people and their families, and as local leaders are well placed to help champion positive changes to end of life care provision in their communities.
Many hospices are actively involved in new and innovative initiatives to better co-ordinate end of life care in their local areas.
For example, SinglePoint is a service hosted by St Helena Hospice in Colchester which aims to offer improved coordination and continuity of care for patients identified to be in their last year of life.
It offers a 24/7 telephone advice line for terminally ill patients or their relatives to call to ask for help and support. As well as the new single telephone number, the service will also coordinate responsive out-of-hours nursing care for people in the community who are in the last three months of their life.
Hospices are also working with hospitals, care homes and other providers to promote best practice in end of life care and improve service provision.
Many hospices are already in partnership with their local hospital to provide alternative care solutions. For example, St Catherine's Hospice in Yorkshire was commissioned by its local Clinical Commissioning Group to open four "end-of-life" care beds. This has helped facilitate rapid discharge from its local hospital for patients in their last days of life, providing them with a more home-like environment than a hospital ward.
Hospice UK is committed to working with hospices to turn this new framework's ambitions into reality.
We hope these ambitions will provide fresh impetus for change and galvanise leaders of health and care services to take active steps to improve end of life care for all.