Headlines: November 5th, 2009

Poor communication in hospitals and within health care teams as well as between medical professionals and patients is compromising patient care. A new survey from the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death says the lack of communication is a serious and recurring problem affecting care, particularly of people nearing the end of their life

Today’s report, ‘Caring to the End?’ looked at the care of more than 3,000 people of all ages who died within four days of being admitted to hospital. A third of them did not receive good medical care. The reviewers found that half of those in the survey were not expected to survive, but the one of the report’s authors, Dr David Mason, adds: “There is evidence that health care professionals fail to make the judgment that patients are approaching the end of their life. This means that they fail to implement appropriate end of life care.”

In 53 per cent of cases there was an apparent lack of input from senior doctors leading to delays in giving patients timely and appropriate care. The second author, surgeon Ian Martin said: “The survey highlighted poor communication between and within clinical teams, coupled with poor documentation and the fragmentation of the traditional ‘firm’ structure, which I regard as a serious matter of concern.”

The report calls for improvements in communication and systems for handovers between and within health care teams as well as training for health care staff to recognise the needs of patients. The NCEPOD Chairman, Professor Tom Treasure, said: “It should be ensured that patients achieve the best quality of life until they die. Effective team working and communication with patients, relatives and carers are fundamental to getting this right.”