End-of-life care

In medicine, nursing and the allied health professions, end-of-life care (or EoLC) refers to health care, not only of patients in the final hours or days of their lives, but more broadly care of all those with a terminal illness or terminal disease condition that has become advanced, progressive and incurable.

End-of-life care requires a range of decisions, including questions of palliative care, patients' right to self-determination (of treatment, life), medical experimentation, the ethics and efficacy of extraordinary or hazardous medical interventions, and the ethics and efficacy even of continued routine medical interventions. In addition, end-of-life often touches upon rationing and the allocation of resources in hospitals and national medical systems. Such decisions are informed both by technical, medical considerations, economic factors as well as bioethics. In addition, end-of-life treatments are subject to considerations of patient autonomy. "Ultimately, it is still up to patients and their families to determine when to pursue aggressive treatment or withdraw life support."[1]

National perspectives


In 2012, Statistics Canada's General Social Survey on Caregiving and care receiving[2] found that 13% of Canadians (3.7 million) aged 15 reported that at some point in their lives they had provided end-of-life or palliative care to a family member or friend. For those in their 50s and 60s, the percentage was higher, with about 20% reporting having provided palliative care to a family member or friend. Women were also more likely to have provided palliative care over their lifetimes, with 16% of women reporting having done so, compared with 10% of men. These caregivers helped terminally ill family members or friends with personal or medical care, food preparation, managing finances or providing transportation to and from medical appointments.[3]

United Kingdom

End of life care has been identified by the UK Department of Health as an area where quality of care has previously been "very variable", and which has not had a high profile in the NHS and social care. To address this, a national end of life care programme was established in 2004 to identify and propagate best practice,[4] and a national strategy document published in 2008.[5][6] The Scottish Government has also published a national strategy.[7][8][9]

In 2006 just over half a million people died in England, about 99% of them adults over the age of 18, and almost two-thirds adults over the age of 75. About three-quarters of deaths could be considered "predictable" and followed a period of chronic illness[10] – for example heart disease, cancer, stroke, or dementia. In all, 58% of deaths occurred in an NHS hospital, 18% at home, 17% in residential care homes (most commonly people over the age of 85), and about 4% in hospices.[10] However a majority of people would prefer to die at home or in a hospice, and according to one survey less than 5% would rather die in hospital.[10] A key aim of the strategy therefore is to reduce the needs for dying patients to have to go to hospital and/or to have to stay there; and to improve provision for support and palliative care in the community to make this possible. One study estimated that 40% of the patients who had died in hospital had not had medical needs which required them to be there.[10][11]

In 2015 and 2010, the UK ranked highest globally in a study of end-of-life care. The 2015 study said "Its ranking is due to comprehensive national policies, the extensive integration of palliative care into the National Health Service, a strong hospice movement, and deep community engagement on the issue." The studies were carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit and commissioned by the Lien Foundation, a Singaporean philanthropic organisation.[12][13]

United States

Estimates show that about 27% of Medicare's annual $327 billion budget ($88 billion) in 2006 goes to care for patients in their final year of life.[14][15][16] It represents 22% of all medical spending in the United States, 18% of all non-Medicare spending, and 25 percent of all Medicaid spending for the poor.[14]

Spiritual care in end of life care

Pastoral/Spiritual care is of particular significance in end of life care.[17] 'In palliative care, responsibility for spiritual care is shared by the whole team, with leadership given by specialist practitioners such as pastoral care workers. The palliative care approach to spiritual care may, however, be transferred to other contexts and to individual practice'.[18]

Care in the final days and hours of life

Signs that death may be near

The U.S. Government National Cancer Institute advises that the presence of some of the following signs may indicate that death is approaching:[19]

Diseases Symptom management

The following are some of the most common potential problems that can arise in the last days and hours of a patient's life:[20]

Pain -Suffering from uncontrolled pain is a significant fear of those at end of life.[21]
Typically controlled using morphine or, in the United Kingdom, diamorphine[22][23] or other opioids.
Delirium, terminal anguish, restlessness (e.g. thrashing, plucking, or twitching). Typically controlled using midazolam,[23] or other benzodiazepines. Haloperidol is commonly used as well.[24] Diseases symptoms may also sometimes be alleviated by rehydration, which may reduce the effects of some toxic drug metabolites.[25]
Respiratory Tract Secretions
Saliva and other fluids can accumulate in the oropharynx and upper airways when patients become too weak to clear their throats, leading to a characteristic gurgling or rattle-like sound ("death rattle"). While apparently not painful for the patient, the association of the diseases symptom with impending death can create fear and uncertainty for those at the bedside.[25] The secretions may be controlled using drugs such as scopolamine (hyoscine),[23] glycopyrronium,[23] or atropine.[25] Rattle may not be controllable if caused by deeper fluid accumulation in the bronchi or the lungs, such as occurs with pneumonia or some tumours.[25]
Nausea and vomiting
Typically controlled using haloperidol,[24] cyclizine;[23] or other anti-emetics.
Dyspnea (breathlessness)
Typically controlled using morphine or, in the United Kingdom, diamorphine[22][23]

Typical care plans, such as those based on the Liverpool Care Pathway for dying patients, pre-authorise staff to address such diseases symptoms as soon as they are needed, without needing to take time to seek further authorisation. Subcutaneous injections are one preferred means of delivery when it has become difficult for patients to swallow or to take pills orally; and if repeated medication is needed, a syringe driver (called an infusion pump in the US) is often likely to be used, to deliver a steady low dose of medication.

Another means of medication delivery, available for use when the oral route is compromised, is a specialized catheter designed to provide comfortable and discreet administration of ongoing medications via the rectal route. The catheter was developed to make rectal access more practical and provide a way to deliver and retain liquid formulations in the distal rectum so that health practitioners can leverage the established benefits of rectal administration. Its small flexible silicone shaft allows the device to be placed safely and remain comfortably in the rectum for repeated administration of medications or liquids. The catheter has a small lumen, allowing for small flush volumes to get medication to the rectum. Small volumes of medications (under 15ml) improve comfort by not stimulating the defecation response of the rectum, and can increase the overall absorption of a given dose by decreasing pooling of medication and migration of medication into more proximal areas of the rectum where absorption can be less effective.[26][27]

Other diseases symptoms which may occur, and may be mitigable to some extent, include cough, fatigue, fever, and in some cases bleeding.[25]

See also


  1. Naila Francis - Dr. Lauren Jodi Van Scoy Poses Critical Questions About Death in First Book - PhillyBlurbs.com - The Intelligencer, July 10/11, 2011.
  2. "General Social Survey - Caregiving and Care Receiving (GSS)". www23.statcan.gc.ca. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  3. "Statistics Canada - End of life care, 2012". July 9, 2013. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  4. NHS National End of Life Care Programme, official website
  5. End of Life Care Strategy: Promoting high quality care for all adults at the end of life, UK Department of Health, July 2008.
  6. Q&A: End of life care, BBC News, 26 November 2008
  7. 'Better' end of life care pledge, BBC News, 21 August 2008
  8. Living and Dying Well: A national action plan for palliative and end of life care in Scotland, Scottish Government, 2 October 2008
  9. Scots end-of-life plan launched as part of innovative palliative care strategy, Nursing Times, 14 October 2008.
  10. 1 2 3 4 End of life care: 1. The current place and quality of end of life care, House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, 30 March 2009, paragraphs 1-3.
    See also End of life care strategy, UK Department of Health, July 2008, paragraphs 1.1 and 1.7-1.14 (pages 26-27); and End of Life care, UK National Audit Office Comptroller and Auditor General's report, 26 November 2008, paragraphs 2.2-2.5 (page 15)
  11. End of Life care, UK National Audit Office Comptroller and Auditor General's report, 26 November 2008, paragraph 21 (page 7) and supporting study
  12. "Quality of Death Index 2015: Ranking palliative care across the world". The Economist Intelligence Unit. 6 October 2015. Retrieved 8 October 2015; "UK end-of-life care 'best in world'". BBC. 6 October 2015. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  13. The Quality of Death: Ranking end-of-life care across the world, Economist Intelligence Unit, July 2010; Quality of death, Lien Foundation, July 2010; United States Tied for 9th Place in Economist Intelligence Unit's First Ever Global 'Quality of Death' Index, Lien Foundation press release; UK comes top on end of life care - report, BBC News, 15 July 2010
  14. 1 2 Donald R Hoover; Stephen Crystal; Rizie Kumar; Usha Sambamoorthi; Joel C Cantor (December 1, 2002). "Medical Expenditures during the Last Year of Life: Findings from the 1992–1996 Medica0000re Current Beneficiary Survey". Health Service Research. 37 (6): 1625–1642. doi:10.1111/1475-6773.01113. PMC 1464043Freely accessible. PMID 12546289. Last-year-of-life expenses constituted 22 percent of all medical, 26 percent of Medicare, 18 percent of all non-Medicare expenditures, and 25 percent of Medicaid expenditures.
  15. Julie Appleby. Debate surrounds end-of-life health care costs. USA Today, July 10/11, 2011.
  16. Hoover, D. R.; Crystal, S.; Kumar, R.; Sambamoorthi, U.; Cantor, J. C. (2002). "Medical Expenditures during the Last Year of Life: Findings from the 1992–1996 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey". Health Services Research. 37 (6): 1625–1642. doi:10.1111/1475-6773.01113. PMC 1464043Freely accessible. PMID 12546289.
  17. "National Consensus Statement: Essential Elements for Safe and High-Quality End-of-Life Care." (PDF). Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare. 2015. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  18. Rumbled, Bruce (2003). "Caring for the spirit: lessons from working with the dying". Medical Journal of Australia. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  19. NCI Factsheet: End-of-Life Care: Questions and Answers, 30 October 2002. Some material here has been adapted verbatim from the factsheet, which is identified as being in the public domain as a creation of federal government employees (NCI Web policies: Copyright and registered trademarks).
  20. This list is based on the principal heading prompts in the Liverpool Care Pathway standard documentation template. A more detailed discussion of common symptoms and potential mitigation options can be found in the U.S. National Cancer Institute's PDQ Last Days of Life: Symptom management.
  21. Canadian Nurses Association. "Position Statement: Providing Care at The End of Life", 2008, p.3
  22. 1 2 NHS. "Diamorphine (Diamorphine 5mg powder for solution for injection ampoules)". NHS. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
  23. 1 2 3 4 5 6 LCP Sample hospital template, Marie Curie Palliative Care Institute, Liverpool. Version 11 - November 2005
  24. 1 2 Vella-Brincat, J (2004). "Haloperidol in palliative care". Palliat Med. PMID 15198132.
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 NCI PDQ: Last Days of Life: Symptom management, United States National Cancer Institute, Revised 9 March 2009
  26. De Boer AG, Moolenaar F, de Leede LG, Breimer DD. (1982) "Rectal drug administration: clinical pharmacokinetic considerations." Clin Pharmacokinetics. 7(4):285-311
  27. Moolenaar F, Koning B, Huizinga T. (1979) "Biopharmaceutics of rectal administration of drugs in man. Absorption rate and bioavailability of phenobarbital and its sodium salt from rectal dosage forms." International Journal of Pharmacaceutics, 4:99-109

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