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18 June 2021

Professor Sleeman: More data needed to ensure high quality end-of-life care is available to all who need it

Professor Sleeman shared her expertise at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dying Well, attended by around 900 parliamentarians and members of the public.

Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge in London

Professor Katherine Sleeman, Laing Galazka Professor at the Cicely Saunders Institute, has spoken out about the need for excellent palliative care as part of the debate around assisted dying and euthanasia. She called for better data to inform the debate before any change is made to UK laws around assisted dying.

Professor Sleeman is a clinical academic and expert in end-of-life care at King’s College London. She was recently invited to share her expertise and inform debate by speaking at an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). The APPG on Dying Well opposes a change in the law around assisted dying and euthanasia, arguing instead that what is needed is high-quality palliative care available to everyone.

Speaking to the group at an event attended by over 70 MPs, peers, and members of the public, Professor Sleeman said there were ‘large gaps’ in knowledge around the quality of palliative care outcomes.

The most important data we rely on are proxies like “did people die at home?” when actually what we really want to know is, did people die at peace?

Professor Katherine Sleeman, Laing Galazka Chair in Palliative Care

Professor Sleeman said she was concerned that the conversation is being driven by hyperbole and fear not by evidence and information and it is dangerous to frame this as a choice between suffering and suicide.

‘I think there are some reasons for optimism, particularly around maybe how palliative care is perceived and prioritised, but also reasons to feel worried.’

‘I think progress is not what we might have hoped [for],’ she said.

Other speakers at the event included pain specialist Dr Owen Wilson, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock.

Responding to comments from Professor Sleeman regarding the patchy provision of end-of-life care, Mr Hancock recognised that more needs to be done to improve access to excellent care for all.

The Secretary of State also backed calls for the creation of a new stand-alone end-of-life advisory group or ‘What Works Centre’ which needs approval from the Cabinet Office. The independent group would drive forward improvements in palliative care and look at issues such as access to treatment and funding.

A recording of the APPG event is available on the Dying Well website

In this story

Katherine Sleeman

Laing Galazka Chair in Palliative Care, Honorary Consultant in Palliative Medicine