EAST Lancashire’s hospitals need to do ‘a lot more work’ to improve end-of-life care for dying patients, according to campaigners.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said the Royal Blackburn and Burnley General hospitals were performing well on some aspects of palliative care, but highlighted a lack of specialist cover at weekends and shortcomings in prescribing.

The union has published a detailed report on end-of-life care in England, and called for ‘major improvements’ to care for dying people, and better support for their families.

The RCP found that East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT), along with most other trusts, has failed to offer ‘face-to-face’ palliative care at weekends, despite a long-standing recommendation that this be provided.

It also performed badly for the proportion of patients having necessary medication prescribed for the five key symptoms often experienced near the end of life - pain, agitation, noisy breathing, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting. This standard was met in just 34 per cent of cases, compared to the national average of 51 per cent.

Dr Kevin Stewart, a clinical director at the RCP, said the trust’s results were ‘more encouraging than the national picture in some key respects, particularly in communication by doctors and nurses with patient and their families, and the trust should be commended on this’.

But he added: “As we have seen across the country there is also plenty of work for them to do, perhaps especially in the area of prescribing and provision of seven-day specialist palliative care services.”

Russ McLean, chairman of the Pennine Lancashire Patient Voices Group, said: “End-of-life care is a very emotive subject. I think things are improving but it’s concerning that specialist support isn’t available at weekends, it should be there all the time. There clearly needs to be a lot more work done before this is right for patients.”

Dr Ian Stanley, medical director at ELHT, said: “Here at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, we are making improvements to consistently deliver high quality care for patients in the final days of their life. This includes care tailored to the patient’s wishes and preferences, provided by staff who are trained and competent in caring for dying patients.”