Is there a Real Choice in Where Patients with Cancer Wish to Die or is this a Myth?

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Recently, the concept of patient autonomy has become more prevalent within the healthcare field with the government and the NHS promoting patient choice and providing assurance that individuals will have full control over their care and patient journey. However, a recent publication from Macmillan Cancer Care (MCC) (2013a, pp. 1-27), suggests that there is very little choice available for individuals suffering from terminal cancer with regards to where they spend the end of their lives.

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Figures provided within the MCC (2013a, p. 8) report suggest that 81% of cancer sufferers would prefer to die at home whilst in reality, 48% of these die in a hospital with only 23% of patients dying within the comfort of their own homes. For individuals who are approaching the end of their lives, the option of being cared for and dying within their own home with the familiarity and comfort that this brings, is often very important. The National Bereavement Survey (NBS) (Office for National Statistics, 2012, np) showed that that the loved ones of those who had died in hospital often considered the standard of care as being poor when compared to those who died at home, in a care home or within a hospice. Indeed, the NBS (ONS, 2012, np) showed that 53% of loved ones whose friend or family member had died at home and 58% of those who had died in a hospice, rated the standard of care as outstanding or excellent compared to just 34% for those who had died within a hospital. This essay will consider the barriers that cancer patients are presented with when making their end of life choices and will make recommendations for improvement of service to ensure that these individuals are allowed to make and receive their final choice. However, the essay will begin with a brief overview of the benefits that end of life patient choice can bring to both the individual and to the wider society.

The Benefits of End of Life Patient Choice

According to the National End of Life Intelligence Network (2012, p.7) 89% of patients who die in hospital are brought in as emergency admissions. However, a large number of these individuals have already expressed their desire to die at home, therefore representing a poor patient outcome and negative experiences. In addition, these unnecessary emergency admissions place a costly strain on accident and emergency departments and the patients take up hospital beds that could be used for other cases. When one considers that the number of people in this country is increasing with the elderly becoming the most prevalent age group, it is not unfeasible to believe that the number of individuals dying from terminal cancer over the next few decades is also going to increase.

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