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End of life cancer patients plea

The NHS could save £69 million a year by providing community care to allow cancer patients in England to die at home instead of in hospital, according to a new report by Macmillan Cancer Support.

This comes as the charity urges the Government to publicly commit to implementing free social care at the end of life.

The report ‘Can we live with how we’re dying?’ estimates that £137m was spent delivering hospital care to 36,400 cancer patients – 100 people a day – who died in hospital in 2012 despite saying that they wanted to die at home. If these people had been provided with community care to help them die at home it would have halved the cost to the NHS (£69m) and the money could be spent elsewhere.

If this was available for people with other terminal conditions, the potential cost saving would be much higher.

The report sets out the economic and moral case for providing free social care to people at the end of life for the very first time. In addition, three in four health professionals believe the vast majority (70%) of cancer patients in hospital in the last few days of life would have no medical need to be there if there were alternative community-based services available.

The majority (73%) of senior health and social care decision makers also agree that some of the money spent looking after people at the end of life in hospital could be better spent providing free social care services in their area.

Despite the Government concluding back in 2012 that there would be ‘much merit’ in its introduction, it has yet to do so.

Tony and Dorothy Bonser, both 68 from Lancashire, lost their son, 35, to a sarcoma cancer in 2009. Tony says:

“Neil had a great fear of hospitals but he spent the last ten days in one after the sarcoma in his leg spread to his lungs and he became increasingly unwell. It was only a day before his death that anyone at the hospital actually asked him what he wanted. He told them he wished to be at home and that’s where he died just 24 hours later.

“Why was it left so late? If we’d been aware that he could have got professional support to spend his last days at home, he would have suffered less distress and the NHS would have saved itself a precious hospital bed.”

Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, says:

“We urgently need to reform end-of-life services in England. Every day around 100 cancer patients die in expensive hospital beds when they wanted to die at home. This is both morally wrong and a scandalous waste of precious NHS resources.

“It’s very simple, there is a real opportunity for the NHS to spend its budget better and we know health commissioners as well as Macmillan support the idea. If up to £69million could be saved by providing community care to cancer patients at the end of life in England, imagine the millions more that could be saved if the 600,000 people who die in the UK every year had an actual choice about where they die.

“We want this Government to publicly commit to implementing a system of free social care at the end of the life in England and the next Government to make it a reality.”

Ahead of the general election, Macmillan Cancer Support is calling on political parties to include this commitment in their manifestos. The charity is also asking the public to email their MP to encourage them to support the campaign via

Anyone needing cancer information or support can call Macmillan’s Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 (or visit

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