Palliative care is under threat due to a shortage of specialist nurses, a report is expected to warn this week.
The report, due to be published on Wednesday, will reveal details of the latest workforce survey by the National Council for Palliative Care. It will warn that an ageing palliative care workforce coupled with nursing staff shortages could threaten quality of care for terminally ill patients.
The report will reveal that the number of specialist palliative care nurses peaked in 2008, before dropping by 6.9% over the next two years.
It will also show the average vacancy rate for palliative care nursing positions in 2010 was 8.7% – higher than the rate for consultants of 7.8%. This compares with NHS Information Centre data for 2009-10 which showed the overall vacancy rate for registered nurses was 0.6%.
The report will also reveal that palliative care nursing is an ageing specialty, with nearly 40% of palliative care specialist nurses over the age of 50.
The workforce findings contrast with expected demand for palliative care. The council highlights that currently around 500,000 people die each year in England and Wales, but that figure is expected to reach 586,000 by 2030.
However, a separate report published last week praised the high standards of palliative care currently provided generally within hospitals.
An audit led by the Marie Curie Palliative Care Institute Liverpool, together with the Royal College of Physicians, looked at performance data on eight areas of the Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying Patient, involving more than 7,000 patients at 127 trusts.
- The Department of Health is also asking for expressions of interest from NHS organisations interested in piloting a new method of funding palliative care.
The pilots will involve testing a new patient care pathway. Nurses will be involved in gathering information on the stages of treatment and the condition of patients.