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Palliative care inequalities

A new analysis has revealed significant inequalities in access to specialist palliative care services among cancer patients.

The Medical Research Council-funded study found the elderly were between 18 and 63 per cent less likely to use specialist palliative care than younger patients.

The researchers called for the inequalities in access to be investigated further, to ensure the objectives of the NHS Cancer Plan and the national service framework for older people were being fulfilled.

Professor Rosalind Raine, a researcher on the study and lecturer at the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, said: 'Specialist palliative care is a very slippery service as it is more difficult to determine who needs what and when. GPs need explicit understanding as to who will benefit, yet nobody knows where the inequities lie. The system needs repackaging.'

Dr Terry John, a GP in London and member of the equal opportunities committee at the BMA, said: 'The guidelines need to be looked at again as there should be no obstacles in receiving specialist palliative care. Criteria need to be based on a range of aspects independent of age.'

The systematic review, published online by Age and Ageing, identified 14 studies on access to palliative care, including five from the UK.

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