Last night we attended the Cicely Saunders Institute Annual Lecture at Kings, London. As well as the 100+ guests at the Institute in South London, there were live video link ups with Guy’s Hospital, Oxford and San Francisco.

The lecture – Can palliative care meet the challenge of care for persons with long-term chronic illness versus remaining in our end-of-life corner? – was given by Dr Diane Meier, Director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

Dr Meier spoke at length about the use of resources in treating serious illness. As life expectancy has risen dramatically since the early 1900’s, more people today die of dementia, frailty and degenerative disease rather than cancer. Yet in terms of government spending (in the UK as well as the US), more money is spent on the likes of chemotherapy than on palliative care.  If more focus was given to palliative care in the early stages of care after diagnosis, people would be able to cope better with their illness thereby removing their reliance on emergency care which often results in hospital admissions rather than patients being able to remain at home.

Most interesting were her thoughts on the definition of palliative care, which has become  defined in terms of end of life care. Dr Meier’s assertion is that palliative care should be seen as helping people live better and longer, rather than as soley in the realm of the final weeks/months before death.

She would like to see palliative care defined as: ‘Improving quality of life for those living with serious diseases’

which is clearly aligned with our mantra at Dimbleby Cancer Care: ‘Making life better for people living with cancer’.

We focus on improving quality of life – be that through complementary therapies, advice or psychological and emotional support – which has an essential place in end of life care but is also important from the moment of diagnosis and at every stage of the patient pathway.

Dr Meier referred to recent research where ‘Independence’ was ranked the most important factor (76%) to those dealing with serious illness. ‘Staying alive’ ranked last. Similarly, bereaved families were asked to recall the most important factors in the care they received: ‘quality of care’ ranked highest.

Talking to patients about their wants and needs is integral to providing gold standard palliative care. Patient focus is key to the work supported by Dimbleby Cancer Care.