The Health Select Committee's recent report into end of life care strongly recommended that free social care be available to everyone at the end of life. The committee's considered and authoritative report was unambiguous on the importance of free social care, and we are now at a stage where cross-party consensus has never been stronger. It's not the first time we've heard support for this policy; in 2012 this government recognised 'much merit' in free social care being introduced to those at the end of life, so we need commitment from those who can now make it happen.
Many people could benefit from having access to free social care, where much needed support is provided in the home, and we know that people with cancer who are at the end of life are a perfect example. That's because we know that 73 per cent of people with cancer would prefer to die at home, but only 30 per cent currently do - the broader picture for people at the end of life is not much different. This unacceptable discrepancy between preference and reality needs to change.
Support from social care services can help people with a terminal cancer diagnosis to remain and die in their own homes, if they so choose. For those who aren't able to rely on their family or a carer, social care helps them with non-nursing tasks, such as washing, getting dressed and preparing meals. For those who do have the support of their family or a carer, social care gives loved-ones a much-needed break from the physical and emotional strain of caring for someone at the end of life.
Having a choice over where a person dies should not be a luxury that is inconsistently experienced, it should be at the core of everyone's end of life plans. With the number of people living with cancer in the UK set to grow to 2.5 million this year, it is essential the government embraces measures that will give people the best experience possible, while also being cost-effective.
In a report last year, Macmillan Cancer Support estimated that £137million was spent delivering hospital care to 36,400 cancer patients - that's 100 people a day - who died in hospital in 2012 despite saying that they wanted to die at home. Hospital beds are expensive and oversubscribed so access to free social care could help reduce the pressure on the NHS that so often dominates the headlines.
Introducing free social care at the end of life is a golden opportunity to improve people with cancer's last experiences, while simultaneously easing the strain on the NHS. We are now at a point where the stars of government and professional opinion are aligned on the issue - and it is incumbent on the next government to ensure it becomes a reality. Macmillan Cancer Support is calling on all political parties to include free social care for people at the end of life in their manifestos ahead of the election in May. We simply cannot wait any longer.