At the height of the summer, Marie and I wrote an open letter to the Chancellor George Osborne urging him to include funding for improvements in end of life care in the comprehensive spending review, and we urged others to also sign it. We both felt strongly from personal experience that choice at the end of life is hugely important, but too often absent. Marie's brother and my mother both wanted to die at home, and ultimately were able to do so, but only after we went to great personal lengths to ensure it could happen.
As autumn draws in, and we get ever closer to next month's comprehensive spending review in which crucial funding decisions are made, an amazing 20,000 people have also signed our letter to the Chancellor. This is a simply terrific public response to an issue that is very close to both our hearts, and the signatures have now been handed over to the government on Wednesday.
We both feel the case for putting more money into palliative and end of life care is not one the government can ignore. In February an independent review of choice in end of life care made clear recommendations that would ensure people received more coordinated carer, and that their preferences were recorded. These recommendations must be fully funded.
The current system is inconsistent and inadequate, with recent research by Macmillan Cancer Support finding that 44 per cent of people with terminal cancer rely solely on family and friends for practical support. This is despite the fact that more than 84% of people with cancer at the end of life qualify for formal social care support. That is an unacceptable proportion of people going through the most difficult of times completely unsupported.
I know from my own experience just how hard it can be for those caring for a loved one who is at the end of life. The emotional strain is often immense, and the practical aspects of looking after someone at the end of life can seem really daunting. It is totally understandable that many feel they just cannot cope. That is why it is so important that people have access to care whenever and wherever they need it, so people's dying wishes can be fulfilled, and carers don't reach a breaking point. Without this care and support, people often end up being admitted to hospital as an emergency. This is often unnecessary, and can be stressful and upsetting for the dying person and those close to them.
We know that the NHS is currently under a great deal of pressure. Funding improvements in end of life care can play a part in relieving this. There can surely be no greater way to save money than by ensuring that expensive hospital beds are not taken up by people who in many cases would rather be a home. The majority of people with cancer would rather die at home, but at the moment only a minority are able to do so.
A general election manifesto commitment of this government was to improve end of life care. The government must ensure that people get choice over their place of death; we know from our own experience how important this is. It is now up to the Chancellor to make sure this can become a reality.