Marie Curie to provide end-of-life care for non-cancer patients
Thousands of people across Northern Ireland with terminal illnesses other than cancer will now benefit from end-of-life care from Marie Curie specialist nurses.
Over the past 50 years Marie Curie has been known as a cancer charity. Now the organisation will drop 'cancer care' from its title, relaunching itself as a terminal illness charity.
The move comes after startling research commissioned by the charity revealed end-of-life care in Northern Ireland and the UK needs an overhaul after identifying a lack of services for tens of thousands of non-cancer patients.
Based on calculations in the 2011 Palliative Care Funding Review, 3,000 people in Northern Ireland who would benefit from palliative care are missing out.
This compares to an estimated 92,000 people in England, around 6,200 people in Wales and 11,000 people in Scotland.
Marie Curie has cared for people with non-cancer previously but this 'rebranding' step hopes to raise public awareness of the expanding services they provide for patients and families.
This includes care for life-limiting conditions including dementia, congenital heart disease and fatal lung condition COPD.
The report from the London School of Economics and Political Science also found that people aged over 85, and people living in socially deprived areas, are all missing out on important palliative care services.
Compared to people with cancer, those with non-cancer conditions not only receive less care from specially trained staff but also less end-of-life care from GPs and district nurses.
Just over 20% of UK hospitals offer seven-day-a-week specialist palliative care, and the quality of hospital care is rated lower than that from a care home or a hospice.
Despite more than 70% of deaths from causes other than cancer - including respiratory illness, circulatory conditions and dementia - people with non-cancer diagnoses still account for only 20% of all new referrals to specialist palliative care services.
Lead author Josie Dixon from LSE's Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU) said the findings should raise concerns.
"Palliative care can reduce symptoms and pain and help people die where they want to," she said.
"It can also save money by preventing unwanted and distressing hospitalisations."
Joan McEwan, head of policy and public affairs at Marie Curie in Northern Ireland, said it is hoped that the move will raise awareness and help care for more people.
"It is a more truthful reflection of what we do now," she said.
Ms McEwan added: "What we have done is expanded and evolved to the needs of the people.
"We want to reach more people and their families who are living with a terminal illness and improve the way they are treated.
"Dropping the cancer care from our name, I think makes sense."
Dr Jane Collins, Chief Executive of Marie Curie, said she hoped the research was compelling evidence to be a catalyst for more change.
"Everyone affected by terminal illness should have access to all the care and support they need, regardless of their personal circumstances.
"This report shows that this is not the case and some groups are getting a worse deal than others.
"We don't think this is good enough."