In the framework of PACE, the European project on palliative care for older people in care and nursing homes in Europe, AGE organised last 15 June in Brussels a policy conference on palliative care. This event discussed the benefits of palliative care and how to mainstream it in all relevant policies to ensure access to all those older persons in need.
Palliative care is the set of medical, psychological and social support that helps people with a life-threatening condition. This type of care lessens the pain, enables the users to live better and enables them to remain socially active. Despite its proven benefits, both for the care recipient and the relatives and friends, only 50% of those in need receive palliative care. This reality could be explained by various reasons, such as a lack of information or the negative image linked with it. This problem is prevalent among older people, who often cannot access it or can only receive it at the very end of life.
The event was attended by around 45 people and took place at the Brussels office of the Council of Europe. The session began with the welcome remarks of Humbert de Biolley, Deputy Head of the office, who highlighted the importance of palliative care to the work of the Council of Europe on the rights of older persons and more generally the health and social affairs portfolios. Lieve Van den Block, from the Free University of Brussels (VUB), presented the PACE project and introduced the discussions with a general presentation of palliative care and the comprehensive approach that the project adopts.
The first part of the event highlighted the benefits of palliative care, focusing on how it can improve the lives of older people with a life-threatening condition. The four presentations given by experts of the European Association of Palliative Care (EAPC), Alzheimer Europe, Lancaster University and the Free University of Brussels (VUB), stressed the need to stop focusing on the very aspect of end-of-life, making it available in earlier stages alongside cure. Presentations also highlighted the diversity in policy and practice in the delivery of palliative care and the quality of dying across Europe.
The panel discussion of health and social care professionals included speakers from the European Forum for Primary Care (EFPC), the European Union Geriatric Medicine Society (EUGMS) and the European Association for Directors and Providers of Long-Term Care Services for the Elderly (EDE). They explained the challenges facing healthcare systems and long-term care facilities in integrating palliative care in everyday practice. Speakers highlighted the cultural shift that is required within health and social care, and provided ideas on the ways staff training could better include palliative care.
The last session of the conference opened the discussion to a wider multidisciplinary policy perspective. It included representatives of AGE Platform Europe and the Swedish Parliament, the NetwellCASALA research centre and the European Commission. They explained the role the European Union can and should play in this field. They made the links with the management of chronic diseases and the respect of the dignity of older persons. They also highlighted how the appropriate delivery of quality palliative care relates to the design of age-friendly environments, by capacitating older people to remain active in society.
Marian Harkin, Member of the European Parliament, delivered the closing remarks of the event. She supported the need to change societal images that relate palliative care exclusively to end of life situations, thereby harming the access to beneficial palliative care at earlier stages. She stressed her commitment to the topic, and explained she will do her best to ensure that the outcomes of PACE are taken into account in the relevant parliamentary work. Anne-Sophie Parent, Secretary-General of AGE Platform Europe, stressed the importance of palliative care for older persons and agreed with the need to challenge wrong and narrow societal images.
Lieve Van den Block closed the conference by explaining that the outcomes will be taken forward notably to shape the policy recommendations of the project. A second meeting of the project User Forum, composed of experts of AGE Platform Europe and Alzheimer Europe, will be organised in the first half of 2017 building on these outcomes and focusing on each policy topic mentioned during the conference.
You can consult the conference report here.
Further reading: Global Atlas of Palliative Care at the End of Life, Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance, 2014