More people than ever dying 'in own home'

19 January 2012
New research suggests that more than one in five people now die in their own homes, the highest number in ten years. This is despite an overall decline in the number of people dying.

A total of 102,416 deaths took place at home in 2010, or just over 20 per cent, compared with 93,907 in 2004 (18.3 per cent). The previous highest figure was 108,086 home deaths in 1999.

There was a 3.8 per cent drop in the number of deaths between 2004 and 2010, yet a 9 per cent rise in those dying at home.

The research indicated that while home deaths have increased, the proportion of deaths in hospitals and nursing homes has fallen.

Research carried out by the Dying Matters Coalition shows that around 70% of people would prefer to die at home.

Writing in the journal Palliative Medicine, the experts added that while home deaths increased among over-85s, from 17,122 in 2004 to 23,705 in 2010, this age group was the least likely to die at home of any adult age range over the study period.

The previous trend was of a decline in deaths at home: home deaths nearly halved from 1974 to 2003.

The study, which was carried out by King’s College London using Office for National Statistics data, also discovered that the rise in home deaths appears to be most pronounced among people with cancer.

Researchers say new policies on end-of-life patient care in the past ten years underpin the shift to dying at home. They contend that Britain, which is three years into its government implemented ten-year end of life strategy, is still behind other countries, including the U.S. and Canada, in giving people more choice in their place of death.

Lead author of the new study Barbara Gomes said: ‘What seemed to be an enormous task has happened – the reversal of the longstanding British trend towards an institutionalised dying.

“It is possible the British policy push towards enabling more people to die at home, including the Government end-of-life care programme established in 2004 and the national end-of-life care strategy published in 2008 may be responsible for the trend reversal, alongside other factors.”

However, the report also emphasises the need to look at standards of care at home, stating: "as the number of home deaths increases across nations, it becomes more urgent to examine at what quality and secondly at what cost do people die at home. Presently, there is little evidence that patients who die at home and their relatives experience better care than those who die in institutions, such as hospitals, hospices or nursing homes”.

Eve Richardson, Chief Executive of the National Council for Palliative Care and Dying Matters, said that while she welcomed the findings, more needs to be done. She commented: "It is good news that all the efforts put into the implementing the End of Life Care Strategy are now beginning to bear fruit. But there is still so much to do to make sure that people approaching the end of life can get the services they need at any time of day and night to enable them to live where they want to be until the end of their life. 

"According to the National Audit Office, 40% of end of life patients had no medical need to be in hospital. This is especially concerning as a Comres poll for Dying Matters found that almost six in ten people (59%) are scared of dying in hospital. We need to shift investment towards community-based services, including day and night end of life support, and to ensure that care homes and housing providers are able to help people stay at home at the end of their lives.

"The good news, however, is that by listening to what people want, investing in community services and making end of life care everyone’s business we can turn this around. The Dying Matters coalition can help. It was set up to help people to have conversations and make plans for their end of life and has over 16,000 members. With people living for longer and the number dying each year expected to increase, we need to make this a government priority but to make this happen we need a new deal for dying people."

Read the full report 

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