Policy conference highlights the potential of comprehensive palliative care and the policy reforms required to make it happen
Last 15 June 2016 AGE Platform Europe organised the intermediate PACE Policy Conference at the Brussels Office of the Council of Europe. The session was well-attended, with about 40 participants from civil society, policymaking and academia, among others.
The session aimed to show how a modern vision on palliative care means challenging traditional assumptions such as limiting it to the very late stages of life. Participants could learn and discuss about the benefits of accessing palliative care along the management of a life-threatening health condition, in combination, as much as possible, with cure.
The session began with a welcome speech by Humbert de Biolley, Deputy Head of the Brussels Office of the Council of Europe. He highlighted the relevance of his institution’s work for the advancement of good quality palliative care across Europe, including a 2003 recommendation whose implementation will be assessed in the coming months.
Lieve Van den Block, PACE project coordinator and professor at the Free University of Brussels, set the scene by explaining how dying trajectories are changing, with a prevalence of comorbidities, frailty and dementia. In this context, delivering high quality palliative care means delivering comprehensive and impeccable assessment and treatment of physical, psychosocial and spiritual problems.
The first panel was moderated by Luc Deliens, from the Free University of Brussels. It focused on the overall benefits of palliative care and the state of play regarding access across Europe. Involvement of all stakeholders was highlighted as a key element for the delivery of quality, interdisciplinary palliative care. Discussions revealed the importance to recognise dementia as a major public health challenge and the benefits that palliative care brings to people living with this condition. Presentations also highlighted the diversity of legislations and policies across Europe.
The conference continued with a panel on the perspectives of end-users and health and social care practitioners, moderated by Liz Lloyd, from the University of Bristol. Speakers highlighted the need to clarify the meanings and differences between cure, palliative care and end-of-life care to the general public. The affiliation of long-term care facilities with “places where people die” needs to be challenged. Presentations stressed the importance of training staff to deal with life-threatening conditions and understand the needs of patients from a multidisciplinary perspective. Lifting obstacles for better staff involvement and awareness include pouring more resources, having adequate numbers of trained personnel and developing appropriate strategies and legislation.
The last panel, moderated by Sheila Payne, from Lancaster University, reflected on how to integrate palliative care in all policy areas that affect older people with a life-threatening condition. Presentations highlighted that the European Union should play a role in mainstreaming palliative care. A factor that improves the quality of life of the recipients of palliative care is the development of age-friendly environments that enable them to remain active in society. This means further exploring the appropriateness of the built environment for the delivery of palliative care. Speakers agreed that the lack of skilled staff is a major problem in most countries. Despite the limits to EU action in this field, a recommendation of the Council of Health ministers of the EU will be discussing soon a proposal for a recommendation on chronic diseases that will include a chapter on palliative care.
The conference was closed with the remarks of Marian Harkin, Member of the European Parliament. She stressed her commitment to this topic and shared the need to move towards more multidisciplinary palliative care delivered as soon as a life-threatening health condition appears. She highlighted her willingness to use the outcomes of PACE in the relevant parliamentary work.
Anne-Sophie Parent, Secretary-General of AGE Platform Europe, suggested using “supportive care” instead of “palliative care” to effectively challenge societal images. Lieve Van den Block closed the session highlighting the upcoming PACE activities, which include a new User Forum in 2017 that will build on the outcomes of this event to enable the delivery of sound and specific Policy Recommendations by the end of the project.