West Briton column 23 January 2014 – The Care Bill

I often spend time with young people in schools talking about my work as an MP and many are surprised by the amount of my time taken up by Public Bill Committees. This is where MPs spend many hours going through legislation, word by word to try and ensure that what a Bill creates is clear and when implemented achieves what MPs hoped it would. A single word or phrase in a Bill can make a real difference to people’s lives.

At my request I am a member of the Care Bill Committee, and am currently busy scrutinising this landmark piece of legislation. The Care Bill aims to improve the care people receive, establishing new rights and responsibilities that enable local councils and the NHS to promote people’s health and wellbeing. For many years of my adult life I have been campaigning for a number of changes that the Bill brings.

One particular aspect of the Care Bill will affect us all. For there is one certainty in life and that is we all die. In my personal life and work as an MP I have experienced people receiving excellent care and support that has enabled them to die in their place of choice, at home with their loved ones. I have also too often experienced the opposite where people and their loved ones are overwhelmed by the complexity of dealing with the NHS and Social services while they are trying to come to terms with their impending loss, resulting in the patient passing away in hospital.

Most people do not want to die in hospital. When asked 93% of people say they would prefer to die at home or in a hospice. However currently only 30% of the people who die in the UK each
year are able to do this, with the rest dying in hospital.

For the last couple of years I have been working with MacMillan Cancer Support and Carers UK to press the Government to ensure free and easy access to the care needed to enable people to die in their place of choice.

Ministers have been persuaded, and pilots have been set up across the country to figure out how this can be effectively delivered. Last week in the Care Bill Committee I pressed Ministers for an update on this work and was pleased to be informed that the Government is determined to introduce free end of life care following the results of the pilots, which are due to end in March.

This is good news, which along with other measure contained in the Care Bill, will enable more people to die at home with their loved ones, supported by specialist NHS and caring services. This is not only the first choice of many but will also help prevent unnecessary delays in treatment in hospital for other patients, putting us one step closer in delivering an NHS shaped around the wishes of patients, both in life and at its close.