‘Quality’ more important than ‘quantity’ at end of life

In a Europe-wide survey released this week, the majority of respondents said that quality of life would be more important than length of time left to live if faced with a serious illness beyond treatment.

The European Commission-funded project compared individuals’ priorities for end of life care across seven different countries including England, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Headed by Professor Irene Higginson, Professor of Palliative Care and Policy at King’s College London, and the PRISMA group, the study aimed to inform improvements to the delivery of end-of-life care across Europe and highlight the need for further investment in research.

Of the 9,344 survey respondents, half had supported and cared for a close relative or friend in their last few months of life and more than 60% had a close friend or relative with a serious illness like cancer.

Respondents rated ‘keeping a positive attitude’ and  having ‘pain and discomfort relieved’ as more important goals at the end of life, ahead of keeping relatives and friends at ease and practical matters resolved. An overwhelming majority agreed that they would rather be informed that they had limited time to live and be briefed on the symptoms and problems they were likely to experience.

Commenting on the need for changes in the European approach to end of life care services, Professor Higginson said:

“What we need to see is a step-change in the way policy-makers and clinicians across Europe look at end-of-life care, and ensure that people’s priorities and needs inform planning and delivery of these services. Together with an increased investment in scientific research into end-of-life care, this will really make a difference to the quality of people’s lives as they face their last weeks and days.

“Only 0.11 percent of cancer research funding in the UK goes towards palliative and end-of-life care research, so it is vital that more is invested in this area to ensure scientific evidence helps to inform best practice.”

Survey results can be read in full here.