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Broken pledge on care for dying

PUBLISHED: 11:55 26 May 2009 | UPDATED: 13:58 03 July 2010

Health chiefs were last night under fire after stalling on a promise to improve care for dying patients.

It has emerged that dying people are losing out on the chance of better care because money that was pledged to them is not being spent.

Health chiefs were last night under fire after stalling on a promise to improve care for dying patients.

It has emerged that dying people are losing out on the chance of better care because money that was pledged to them is not being spent.

Norfolk health bosses were last night urged to “get on with it” and spend more of the £2.2m a year which is needed to improve care of the dying.

Most of the money has been swallowed up by other projects, while dying patients are getting just a quarter of the cash promised.

When East Anglia's health trusts were reorganised and merged in 2006, local people were promised that the money saved from reduced overheads would be spent on palliative care, which is care of people with advanced progressive illness, and cancer services.

The savings added up to £10m across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. And Norfolk pledged it was going to spend £2.2m a year on end of life care. But in the last financial year just £585,000 was spent, and just £731,000 is due to be spent over the next year.

NHS Norfolk, the primary care trust created from the merger of Norwich, Southern Norfolk, Broadland, North Norfolk and West Norfolk trusts, says it has spent the cash on other things, but still plans to start spending more end of life care once it has decided how to do it.

NHS Norfolk, like NHS Yarmouth and Waveney, is taking part in the Marie Curie Delivering Choice programme, which aims to give people a choice about where they spend their last days and help them die at home if they want to.

David Stonehouse, director of finance for NHS Norfolk, said that once this project is finished, they will have a clearer idea how best to spend the money.

He said: “We haven't fully committed the decisions about the expenditure. We are going to invest the money wisely.

“We are overspent in other budget areas, including continuing care. The money is being spent on health, but the investment programme in this specific area hasn't gone as quickly as planned because we have got these pieces of work in train to make sure we have the right things in place.”

And he said that the trust had spent money on cancer screening, especially bowel cancer screening, where a major programme has been rolled out over the last two years.

The overspend in other areas means that the cash which should have gone on care of the dying will not be added to the total for future years.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said the money ought to be spent on what it was promised for. He said: “They need to get on with it. As far as I can see it ought to have already happened.

“If they don't deliver on their commitment now one suspects they never will. That is the danger.”

A study into care of the dying, carried out for Norfolk's health scrutiny committee in 2005, found that there was an “urgent” need for palliative care for many more people. It gave the example of one 79-year-old with liver cancer, who wanted to die at home but was given little support. He and his wife had no information about how to get help, no contact from his GP after chemotherapy, and no support after his death.

Sue Spooner, who wrote the report, said yesterday: “It is extraordinary that it has taken such a long time for anything to happen. I would think it needed doing more urgently. I cannot see why they have not acted sooner.

“I know that there is a huge need for much more palliative care, both on the specialist side and at GP level.”

Patient representative Patrick Thompson said that the money should have been spent sooner - and that NHS Norfolk needed to be more open about what was happening with the money. He said: “”When the original consultation was going on the major thrust was that they were looking to save 15pc on management costs, and that was going to be spent on palliative care and cancer screening. We haven't heard since then what the savings was, or how much is being spent on either palliative care or cancer screening.”

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