The healthcare needs of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients in the last year of life

Helena Elkington, Patrick White, Julia Addington-Hall, Roger Higgs, Polly Edmonds
Palliative Medicine 2005, 19 (6): 485-91
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) causes almost as many deaths as lung cancer, yet evidence about the impact of COPD in the latter stages of illness is limited. We assessed the healthcare needs of COPD patients in the last year of life through a retrospective survey of the informants of 399 deaths from COPD in four London health authorities between January and May 2001. We assessed symptoms, day to day functioning, contact with health and social services, formal and informal help with personal care, information received and place of death. We obtained data on 209 (52%) deceased subjects (55% male), average age at death was 76.8 years. Based on the reports of informants of the deaths: 98% were breathless all the time or sometimes in the last year of life; other symptoms reported all the time or sometimes included fatigue or weakness (96%), low mood (77%) and pain (70%); breathlessness was partly relieved in over 50% of those treated; control of other symptoms was poor, with low mood relieved in 8% and no treatment for low mood received by 82% of sufferers; 41% left the house less than once a month or never; 47% were admitted to hospital at least twice in the last year of life; 51% received regular check-ups for their chest; 36% had check-ups by a hospital consultant; 35% saw their general practitioner (GP) less than once every three months or never; 63% knew they might die; 67% died in hospital. Patients who died from COPD lacked surveillance and received inadequate services from primary and secondary care in the year before they died. The absence of palliative care services highlights the need for research into appropriate models of care to address uncontrolled symptoms, information provision and end of life planning

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