Northern Ireland news

Cancer patients being adversely affected by emergency admissions to hospital, report warns

Cancer patients are being adversely impacted by emergency admissions during the last year of their lives
Seanín Graham

EMERGENCY hospital admissions are having a "significant impact" on cancer patients in Northern Ireland, a new report has warned.

Macmillan Cancer Support and the NI Cancer Registry at Queen’s University Belfast examined outcomes for more than 4,300 patients in their last year of their life.

They discovered that almost three quarters of people experienced at least one emergency admission - with one in six patients dying within a week of their last admission.

More than half of cases examined took place outside normal working hours, when care from other services such as the Acute Oncology Service were unavailable.

Research also revealed:

- Three quarters had at least one emergency admission in their last year of life

- Late diagnosis is an issue with one in nine people admitted as an emergency on the same day as their cancer diagnosis

- Almost all (95%) of these people died in hospital

- People who had at least one emergency admission were twice as likely to die in hospital

The report's authors makes recommendations to improve 'person-centred care' including the promotion of early detection, early identification of patients who are in their last year of life, additional training for healthcare professionals to improve advance care planning and establishing a direct point of contact for patients and their carers.

A pilot to extended hours for the NI Acute Oncology Service and further development of community-based services is also recommended.

Dr Anna Gavin, director of the NI Cancer Registry at Queen’s University Belfast said she hopes the report will inform decision-making and ultimately improve cancer services across the north.

"Our findings show that the burden of emergency admissions for cancer patients in the last year of life is high. This has huge implications for the patient, their family and carers and the wider health and social care system. The six recommendations we have made could reduce the number of emergency admissions for cancer patients in the last year of life," Dr Gavin said.

Heather Monteverde, head of services at Macmillan, said that improved "quality" end-of-life care was required.

"This report finds that in far too many cases, people's individual needs are not being met. The fact that so many people are receiving a devastating cancer diagnosis after an emergency admission demonstrates that much more needs to be done to ensure a whole system approach to enabling person-centred care which integrates primary, secondary and community care resources," she said.

"...All health care professionals should be supported so they can confidently have conversations with people about death and enable shared decision-making and advance care planning."

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