The UK has been ranked top in a list which compares palliative care across 80 countries, including Australia, the US and Sweden.
It came first in three out of the five categories used to produce the overall rating – the palliative and healthcare environment, affordability of care, and quality of care.
In the human resources category the UK came second after Australia, and it was placed joint third with France for community engagement after New Zealand and Belgium.
“The UK is an acknowledged leader in palliative care. But there is more that the UK could do to stay at the forefront of palliative care standards”
The UK was highlighted for the attention paid to palliative care in both public and non-profit sectors, its “strong” hospice movement and a national strategy to integrate palliative services into the NHS.
Despite the UK’s high ranking position in the 2015 Quality of Death Index, the Economist Intelligence Unit – which produced the list following research and interviews with over 120 experts – said there was still room for improvement.
Those behind the report referred to a recent investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman into complaints about end of life care which highlighted issues including poor symptom control, inadequate communication, and delays in diagnosis and referrals for treatment.
The EIU also warned of increasing demand in the UK in the future due to an ageing population and the growing prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, dementia and diabetes.
The report also measured future demand for palliative care. It found that that while the UK had a high need compared to other countries, its provision was good so there was less of a gap between the two.
Countries such as China, Greece and Hungary were “most worrying” because of the high demand for services but relatively poor provision.
“For wealthy nations with sophisticated healthcare services, the challenge is moving from a culture of curing illness to managing long-term conditions”
2015 Quality of Death Index
“For wealthy nations with sophisticated healthcare services, the challenge is moving from a culture of curing illness to managing long-term conditions,” said the report.
Annie Pannelay, principal of EIU healthcare, said: “The UK is an acknowledged leader in palliative care. That reflects its comprehensive strategy towards the issue, as well the improvements that are being made, for example in ensuring that people get to spend their final days in the place of their choice.”
“But there is more that the UK could do to stay at the forefront of palliative care standards, such as ironing out occasional problems with communication or symptom control. This issue will become increasingly important in an ageing population,” she added.
“We know from our own research that each year around 110,000 people are missing out on [palliative] care that they urgently need”
In response to the report, Marie Curie’s director of policy and public affairs Simon Jones warned the UK’s top position in the list should not detract from the many improvements still required.
“While we recognise the great work that makes the UK a world leader in palliative care, we know from our own research that each year around 110,000 people are missing out on care that they urgently need,” he said.
Dr Ros Taylor, national director for hospice care at Hospice UK, echoed his concerns and called for improved and increased training for hospital nurses and doctors to tackle the sometimes “appalling neglect” in this setting.
“In addition to tackling substandard palliative care in hospitals and other settings, there needs to be concerted action to reduce the high numbers of dying people in hospital, who would be much better supported in other settings, including hospices or their own homes,” she added.