After months of refusal and prevaricating, a probe has finally been announced into the conduct of Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP); a framework widely criticised by families whose relatives have unknowingly been placed on this ‘pathway to death.’
The Association of Palliative Medicine has ordered the review into the concerns. The National End of Life Care Programme, an NHS affiliate, will coordinate several organisations in the review. While critics welcomed this initial step, the move falls short of the Government Inquiry recently called for by the Reverend Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark.
LCP is a framework used to dictate the withdrawal of palliative care from those who are seen as close to death. This includes the withdrawal of nutrients and medicine from the patient, heavy doses of morphine and consequently dehydration. Such a practice is questioned by the Medical Ethics Alliance, who asserts that any such decision is essentially a prediction, with no conclusive scientific evidence. This is highlighted by the case of Andy Flanagan, whose family revived him, rescued him from LCP and brought him home to live for a further five weeks.
The protestations of the Flanagan family added to the many complaints against LCP. The Royal College of Physicians has uncovered that up to half of families are not informed their loved ones have been placed on LCP. In particular, when Mr Cooper (pictured) discovered his wife had been condemned to LCP without his knowledge, medical staff refused to reverse the decision in spite of his wishes.
It has also been noted that the number of patients placed on LCP has doubled in the past two years. Critics have suggested hospitals are beginning to use LCP as a cost-cutting measure, against patients who are made to feel like a burden to society.
Speaking on behalf of the British Parliament’s Cross-Party Working Group on Human Dignity, Jim Dobbin MP, its Vice-Chairman, asserted the necessity of this investigation: “We would do well to recall the words of Pope John Paul II – ‘A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying.’ The practices of Liverpool Care Pathway are surely not the best we can do for the elderly and the dying of our society, there is no dignity in the deaths proscribed here. Such decisions as to the best care must always be made by the loved ones and families of the patient; Liverpool Care Pathway has resoundingly failed on this account and should certainly be investigated for it.”