KIRKWOOD Hospice has defended a care system for dying patients, after a group of doctors challenged it.
They insisted the Liverpool Care Pathway system was suitable for terminally-ill patients, despite concerns raised by a group of experts.
Doctors who care for the terminally ill suggested that existing end-of-life guidelines could mean patients dying prematurely.
Six medics wrote to a national newspaper claiming that current advice, which allows drugs and food to be withdrawn from a dying patient, could mask signs of improvement.
The Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) was drawn up by Marie Curie to reduce suffering for dying patients and is now used in hundreds of hospitals and care homes in England.
A charity spokeswoman said the guidelines had improved treatment and that the letter would cause unnecessary fear.
But six experts say that “forecasting death is an inexact science” and that decisions are made that some patients are close to death “without regard to the fact that the diagnosis could be wrong.
“As a result a national wave of discontent is building up, as family and friends witness the denial of fluids and food to patients.”
Dr Peter Hargreaves from St Luke’s cancer centre in Guildford raised concerns that “tick box medicine” was being used, and went on: “I have been practising palliative medicine for more than 20 years and I am getting more concerned about this “death pathway’’ that is coming in.
“It is supposed to let people die with dignity but it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Patients who are allowed to become dehydrated and then become confused can be wrongly put on this pathway.”
The Dalton-based Kirkwood Hospice does use the system but Christine Springthorpe, the director of clinical services, said it was certainly not a “tickbox” scheme.
“We want all patients to be as comfortable as possible towards the end of their lives and the pathway does work.
“It is not something to be used on its own. We at the hospice use it as part of providing individual care to our patients.
“Some people do get put on the pathway and then taken off as their condition improves.
“Comfort of the patient is always important. It can be very distressing for relatives to see their family member so close to death but it is always important to constantly monitor and assess the individual’s needs.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “People coming to the end of their lives should have a right to high quality, compassionate and dignified care.
“The Liverpool Care Pathway is an established and recommended tool that provides clinicians with an evidence-based framework to help delivery of high quality care for people at the end of their lives.”
A FAMILY who had a relative in Kirkwood Hospice raised concerns about the Pathway system.
The man died last month and his daughter said: “I would like to say that my family and I are extremely grateful for all the help that the Kirkwood Hospice gave us while my dad was a patient there.
“However, I did get concerned at the Liverpool Pathway.
“The day before he died we were informed that my dad had been put on the Liverpool Pathway. We were told that food and drink would not be given. This is what they did to patients who were expected to die within the next 48 hours.
“He was lying on his back with his mouth open and to me he just looked thirsty.
“I felt that if he could have spoken he would have asked for a drink.
“My relatives and I had to swab his mouth with some water in a sponge on a stick, just to get some moisture into him.
“This situation did not last for long as the hospice had estimated correctly and he died the next day.
“When someone is so ill they are obviously not going to get better whatever you do for them but I did wonder if there was some way they could administer water just to keep the patient comfortable”.