Leading palliative care nurses have welcomed the launch of new approach to caring for dying patients, which is intended to replace the now defunct Liverpool Care Pathway.
The new Priorities for Care, which are backed by government, are designed to ensure the wishes of patients are respected and that care is tailored to their needs.
“It gives nurses a really clear idea of what they should be discussing with patients and their families”
These guiding principles were drawn up by a group of 21 organisations under the umbrella title of the Leadership Alliance for the Care of Dying People.
It includes the Royal College of Nursing, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, Marie Curie Cancer Care and Macmillan Cancer Support.
The change follows a major review of the Liverpool Care Pathway, which was sparked by intense media scrutiny on the way it was being used in some instances.
The review, led by Baroness Julia Neuberger, uncovered harrowing examples of poor care, and found that in some cases the pathway had become little more than a “tick box exercise”.
The review also highlighted a worrying lack of guidance for nurses on care for the dying and that some shied away from having difficult conversations about end of life care.
“I call on individuals who deliver services for people in the last few days and hours of life to make the Priorities for Care part of their practice”
The new guidelines, which form part of a wider report called One Chance to Get it Right, stress the importance of clear and sensitive communication between staff like nurses and the person who is dying, their family and friends.
They spell out the need for individual care plans and place a particular emphasis on ensuring dying patients are helped to eat and drink for as long as they wish to do so.
They also say nurses and others, where appropriate, should help patients and their families plan what they would like to happen long before someone’s final few days.
“They make it clear that care for the dying is integral to nursing care,” said Dee Sissons, director of nursing at Marie Curie, who said she was pleased with all the changes.
“It no longer requires a different set of documents to be started when someone is dying,” she said.
The RCN described the new approach as a significant step, but said it needed to be closely monitored and evaluated.
“It’s really good because it gives nurses a really clear idea of what they should be discussing with patients and their families, and it is explicit about involving not just family but people who are important to the patient,” said Amanda Cheesley, the RCN’s lead on end of life care and the college’s representative on the alliance.
Under the Liverpool Care Pathway, it was only necessary to review care for patients nearing the end of life every three days, but the new approach makes it clear this should happen far more regularly.
“Instead people’s care should be reviewed at least every day and probably more often right at the end,” said Ms Cheesley.
“In most settings where people receive good end of life care that will be happening already, but it is very explicit it should happen. The senior person who does that may well be a nurse especially in a community setting or a hospice.”
She said it was vital all nurses got the right training to ensure they had the skills and confidence to deliver the best care and to have difficult conversations with patients and families.
While some trusts provided in-house training headed-up by specialist palliative care nurses or teamed up with local hospices that could provide bespoke training for staff, she noted that nurses in the independent sector might find it harder to access these kind of opportunities.
“This is not just about the NHS but providing education and training to anyone providing end of life care, which includes settings like care homes where people can find it difficult to access education and training,” she said.
The RCN will be working with other organisations including the Royal College of GPs and National Council for Palliative Care to look at ways to provide training and support to healthcare professionals, she added.
Meanwhile, Unison argued that efforts to ensure best practice and 24-7 services were being put at risk by lack of funding.
“The new guidelines provide, if used properly, a dignified end of life journey,” said Unison’s head of nursing Gail Adams.
“However, it has to be properly funded and resourced to ensure it is available to all who need it whether they are cared for in hospital, in a hospice or care home.”
Jane Cummings, the chief nursing officer for England, said the new guidelines promoted a “culture of compassion” that put patients and relatives at the centre of decisions about their care.
“This is something I am passionate about,” she said.
“I call on individuals who deliver services for people in the last few days and hours of life and their families to make the Priorities for Care part of their practice and to support colleagues in doing the same.
“I will be writing out to all nurses to inform them and raise awareness of the report,” she added.
The documents published yesterday on the NHS Improving Quality website include:
- One Chance to Get it Right: improving people’s experience of care in the last few days and hours of life.
- Core commitments from the 21 organisations that made up the Leadership Alliance for the Care of Dying People
- A summary of engagement that the Alliance carried out on proposed “outcomes and guiding principles”, which have been developed into the Priorities for Care