Sandra Dick: Care Pathway went down wrong road

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IT was a February evening, the hospital was busy and I had a very sick relative. There was talk from doctors of her being too poorly to cope with more intensive care. Go away for an hour or two, we’ll see what’s happening.

It’ll all be clearer then, they said.

Clearer it certainly was. Lucid enough earlier for me to reassure her and tell her not to worry, I returned, shocked to find her obliterated by whatever sedative they’d given her. She lay stone-like in a dimly lit room, the lack of medical equipment around her bed a sickening clue that something was dreadfully wrong.

I had never heard of the Liverpool Care Pathway. No-one at hospital bothered to mention it. But it seemed that a decision had been made by someone at some point and without any debate with nearest and dearest that this was how it was to end.

The countdown to death had started without me. The chance to speak to her one last time and hear her speak back, to offer parting words of comfort and be sure she heard, to hold her hand and know for certain that she felt her loved ones’ presence, all gone.

Yesterday, moves were announced that this method of “disposing” of patients is itself in its death throes. Originally intended as a method of enabling terminally ill people to pass away pain-free and with dignity, instead too many people shared too many painful stories of watching loved ones succumb.

Some told how dehydrated loved ones grabbed at the water in flower vases, so demented were they by thirst. In other cases, patients who doctors decided were dying and placed on the controversial LCP went on to make a full recovery. One 82-year-old woman whose drips and feed tubes were removed by doctors was given water by her family – last year she hopped off on a world cruise.

The LCP started to sound like something murderous GP Harold Shipman might have been proud of – doctors with God-like powers to decide when someone should die.

Last year came an acceptance that many patients were put on the LCP without proper consultation or any family involvement. Now it’s emerged hospitals were handed financial incentives for employing the method – the potential implications of which are truly appalling.

Of course I know that some patients arrive in hospital without hope of recovery. And it’s only correct that their final hours should be pain-free and dignified. Whether it’s right that they are assessed along the lines of being potential bed blocking inconveniences and simply euthanised, well that’s another issue.

Perhaps my beloved relative would not have survived even with full medical treatment, but what if she’d at least been given that chance?

Nothing can change what happened but I, for one, am glad that the Liverpool Care Pathway is to be reconsidered. As much for the living as for the dying.