- Monday, 09 July 2012
Leading doctors have claimed that hospitals could be depriving elderly patients of food and drink so they die more quickly to cut costs and free up bed spaces.
Every year, thousands of terminally ill people are placed on a 'care pathway' to quicken the ends of their lives.
But, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, six doctors who specialise in elderly care claimed hospitals across the country could be using the controversial practice.
They suggested that this could be to ease pressure on hospital resources.
In the 1990s, doctors at the Royal Liverpool Hospital developed the Liverpool Care Pathway, where fluids and drugs are withheld in a patient's final days.
It is currently used with 29 per cent of hospital patients at the end of their lives and backed by the Department of Health.
But the six experts told the Daily Telegraph that not all doctors were acquiring the correct consent from patients - and failing to ask their wishes when they were able to decide.
They say this has led to an increase in patients carrying a card stating that they do not want 'pathway' treatment in the last days of their lives.
One of the letter's signatories, Dr Gillian Craig is a retired geriatrician and former vice-chairman of the Medical Ethics Alliance.
She said: "If you are cynical about it, as I am, you can see it as a cost-cutting measure, if you don't want your beds to be filled with old people."
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "People coming to the end of their lives should have a right to high quality, compassionate and dignified care.
"The Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) is not about saving money.
"It is an established and respected tool that is recommended by NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) and has overwhelming support from clinicians at home and abroad.
"The decision to use the pathway should involve patients and family members, and a patient's condition should be closely monitored.
"If, as sometimes happens, a patient improves, they are taken off the LCP and given whatever treatments best suit their new needs.
"To ensure the LCP is used properly, it is important that staff receive the appropriate training and support."
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