Tom Richmond: Too many cancer victims denied dignity in dying

IN many respects, Benjamin Franklin’s assessment that death and taxes are the only certainties in the world is as relevant today as it was when America’s founding father made his famous declaration more than 225 years ago.

Yet it became increasingly clear, at the dawn of the 21st century, that there is now a third certainty that could not have been foreseen by Franklin – everyone will come to know a relative, or acquaintance, whose life is cut short by cancer.

It is why England’s hospices are stretched to the limit, unable to cope with the sheer number of terminally-ill people who require round-the-clock palliative care in their final days so they can die with a degree off dignity.

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The seriousness of this situation, and the distress that this causes to both cancer victims and their families who are not qualified to administer, for example, pain relief drugs like morphine, has been further highlighted this week by Macmillan Cancer Support’s shocking findings.

It says only one in five people with cancer receive any kind of formal support, with many left unable to wash themselves or go to the toilet. It estimates this number to be 100,000 people – more than the capacity of Wembley Stadium.

Many more individuals with life-limiting conditions are also missing out on care because the Macmillan and hospice staff working in communities – and providing the support so their patients can live at home – simply cannot keep up with the demand. Invariably, they receive inadequate support from those GPs who regard patients as commodities on a conveyor belt because there is no time for empathy or compassion in today’s NHS.

The conclusions of the Macmillan report are so harrowing that they’re worth repeating. “People at all stages of the disease are lacking the care and support they desperately need, with devastating consequences for their health and dignity,” it said.

“This lack of dignity is contributing to the huge emotional toll that cancer can inflict. People are living with constant feelings of fear, anger and isolation, not to mention depression and anxiety.”

Having recently lost a close friend to cancer – his family consider themselves fortunate that there was a hospice bed available – I’m becoming even more convinced that additional state funding should be made available.

At present hospices receive just one third of their funding from the Government – the remaining 66 per cent comes via fundraising and the generosity of the benefactors. At the very least, this should be reversed – the National Health Service was set up to provide care from the cradle to the grave.

It’s the same with Macmillan and other charities doing so much to help the terminally ill. They, too, should be entitled to a greater share of public funds so they can extend the scope and reach of their priceless work. With hospices having to expand to take account of an ageing population, this money is essential if they’re to continue providing the 
care expected of them. They should not have to rely so heavily upon charity in order to fulfil one of the most basic human rights of all – the right to a dignified death.

I just hope each of the main political parties can make this happen, irrespective of the election result. To me, they have a moral duty to do so – even more so when one considers the amount of public money that goes to waste each day on vanity projects.

AN election must be in the air, judging by the sheer volume of pledges from the Conservatives and Labour.

David Cameron’s promise to jail those public officials who betray abuse victims has been followed by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham’s commitment to introduce measures that pave the way for care home owners to lose their liberty if they neglect the elderly.

Instead of this tit-for-tat politics, is there any chance that the main Westminster parties could work together to introduce a new law of accountability which affords the vulnerable the protection that they need?

To me, the main parties have far more in common on this issue than they are prepared to admit – and there’s every chance that consensus politics does, in fact, have the potential to bring about better law-changing.

ON the subject of new legislation, I see Commons leader William Hague’s deputy Tom Brake has blamed Labour for the threadbare agenda at Parliament – and proceedings ending early on a regular basis. “The Labour Party is responsible for scrutiny,” said the Lib Dem. “I am afraid that is because the Opposition are not undertaking their job of scrutiny effectively.”

This is disingenuous – it should be the duty of each and every MP to oversee new laws and whether they will improve the governance and prosperity of Britain.

WHAT hope does British tennis have of finding the next Andy Murray when the sport is treated so appallingly by the BBC? Despite having the broadcasting rights to last weekend’s Davis Cup clash between this country and America, the Corporation shunted the key singles match – a heroic win by the unsung James Ward who came from two sets down to win 15-13 in a fifth set epic – onto the red button. Given the BBC’s summer coverage revolves around Wimbledon, I’m afraid it is game, set and match to those who think the national broadcaster has abdicated its responsibilities to sport.

MORE evidence of negative campaigning comes from Jamie Hanley, Labour’s candidate in the marginal seat of Pudsey who cannot bring himself to utter the wobbly words “Ed Miliband”.

His latest leaflet asks prospective constituents to answer this question: “Has the Tory-led government made your life harder? Tell us your story.”

Wouldn’t it have been more beneficial for Mr Hanley to have asked voters: “What should be the priorities of a future Labour government?”

OVER in the Tory-held marginal of Calder Valley, the case for funding to rebuild Calder and Todmorden high schools was made with passion by local MP Craig Whittaker this week.

Like many, he is bewildered that neither school qualified for renovation funds under the last Government – or the current coalition – despite David Cameron suggesting that both would be benefit from a new fairer formula.

What is perturbing, however, is the refusal of Ministers to release details of the data used to rank schools in order of priority.

No wonder Labour are increasingly confident of winning back this seat on May 7 – it is precisely the type of local issue which makes the general election even more unpredictable.