Thousands of terminally-ill denied hospice care because of lack of beds
UP TO 2,500 terminally-ill patients are denied access to hospice inpatient care each year because of the lack of services nationwide, it emerged today.
A new report by the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) found three times as many hospice beds are needed in the country to meet demand.
IHF chief executive Sharon Foley said in some areas of the country patients at their most vulnerable are being denied access to services simply because of where they live.
She added: "Not having access to inpatient hospice beds has a critical impact on whether a patient dies in an acute hospital or not.
"We are calling on the government to explore what might be achievable through a broad end-of-life strategy."
An estimated 6,000 people died in a hospice last year but areas with limited access to a hospice recorded more cancer deaths in hospital.
Cancer is Ireland's second biggest killer, accounting for more than 8,000 deaths - more then a quarter of the death toll.
The IHF said going by current population figures, there should be 450 hospice beds in the country but only 155 hospice beds are available.
Another 44 beds are ready in Blanchardstown and Cork but are not yet operational because of funding shortages.
Three regions - the north east (Louth, Meath, Cavan, Monaghan), the midlands (Laois, Offaly, Westmeath, Longford) and the south east (Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny and Carlow) - have no hospice service while Wicklow, Mayo and Kerry have no hospice inpatient unit, the IHF said.
Report author Eugene Murray warned demand for hospice care is expected to increase to more than 12,500 people in 2016.
"While only 26% of all deaths in Ireland occur in the home, 40% of patients cared for by home care teams die at home," he said.
"Given that these will often be patients with the most complex care needs, this is a great tribute to hospice home care teams countrywide.
"But where keeping the patient at home is not feasible and there is no hospice in a region, the home care team has no choice but to look for admission to an acute hospital."
The report found home care services in areas where palliative care is under-resourced was better than in regions with hospice beds, with the number of home care nurses per patient population in the north east, the midlands and the south east higher than the national average.
It also revealed the estimated cost per patient receiving specialist palliative home care support is just 686 euro (£582).
Dr Kathy McLoughlin, who also worked on the report, said many international studies indicate savings when patients access hospice programmes.
"They also show improved length of life, better symptom control and patient and carer experience," she added.
"Hospice services can provide real savings to the healthcare system and meet the needs of patients.
"By ensuring that patients with life-limiting conditions are cared for in the most appropriate setting for their needs such as hospices, the State can secure the more efficient use of acute hospital resources."