One of the worst examples in recent history was the hysteria whipped up about the MMR jab, on the basis of highly questionable evidence from a tiny sample of children. This evidence has now been utterly discredited, but not before vaccination rates dropped to dangerous levels.
The latest target is the Liverpool Care Pathway, or the pathway to death as the Daily Mail prefers. A torrent of stories about hospitals being bribed to put patients on the LCP, patients being routinely denied food and fluids, or health professionals being too keen put patients on the pathway and refusing to take them off if they show signs of recovery have bounced health secretary Jeremy Hunt into declaring that the revised NHS Constitution will require patients and or families to be involved in end-of-life care decisions.
Anyone who took the time to read less sensationalist sources – or to look at the LCP documentation itself – would see that the pathway is simply a tool to help health professionals to make the last hours of their patients’ lives as peaceful as possible. It is only to be used in patients who are dying, and any who show signs of recovery can be taken off the pathway. Food and fluids are only withdrawn in specific circumstances where this will reduce patient distress, and patients and families are already required to be involved in the decision-making process.
Of course, like any tool, the LCP is only as good as the people who use it, so it is vital that it is implemented by health professionals who understand its principles and purpose, and who stick to the guidance.
Properly used the LCP is a way of providing the best possible care to dying patients and their families. Attacks on the pathway on the basis of instances of improper us, or presenting opinions as facts will simply lead patients, professionals and families to avoid using a tool that has spared countless people distress in their final hours.