My Lords, while I welcome Amendment 57, I want to set out the case for the Minister going a good deal further. Amendment 137 follows the discussion in Committee of amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and myself. We have come back with an alternative amendment, which has also been signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. We have done this in consultation with voluntary organisations over the summer, and the wording of Amendment 137 reflects those discussions. To summarise, the amendment would enable the Secretary of State, after discussion, to make regulations that did three things: first, allow people to have their preference for place of death recorded by local health and social care services and for that preference to be implemented wherever practicable; secondly, have their care and support needs and those of carers treated as urgent in assessing needs—and we think, reasonably, that Amendment 57 deals with that; and, thirdly, exempt terminally ill patients from adult social care charges.
Since Committee the Government have brought forward Amendment 57 and, as I have said, I think that it meets many of our concerns about urgent assessment at the end of life. It has certainly had the effect of diluting enthusiasm in some parts of the voluntary sector for a more wide-ranging amendment on end-of-life choice, and I slightly backhandedly congratulate the Minister and his civil servants on achieving that. However, I would still like to have another go at trying to convince the Government, and possibly some members of my own Front Bench, that we should be a bit more ambitious.
Around half a million people die each year in England, about two-thirds of them over the age of 75. A century ago most of us would have died in our own homes. Today, most will die in hospital. The latest figures show that in April 2012, about 42% of people died at home or in a care home. This is an improvement from 38% four years previously, but on present trends it will be at least the end of this decade before half of deaths occur in the place of usual residence. These figures of improvement at the national level, however, conceal considerable regional and local variations.
If you live in the south-west, with 48% of deaths occurring in the place of usual residence, you have more choice than those of us living in London, where the percentage drops to 35%. Of course, as a Londoner I think there are many benefits of living in London, but choosing where I die is not likely to be one of them. There is an even wider variation between local authority areas. The great majority of us want to die at home or the place we normally live rather than, I suggest, the hectic and somewhat impersonal environment of an acute hospital ward. Perversely, we end up not only dying not only in the place where we least want to be but also in the most expensive place.
Marie Curie research has shown that a week of palliative care in the community costs about £1,000 a week, whereas a week of hospital in-patient specialist palliative care costs virtually £3,000 a week. The National End of Life Care Programme shows an estimated potential net saving of £958 per person if you die in the community rather than in hospital. Polling for Macmillan has shown that eight out of 10 health and social care professionals agree that community-based end-of-life care would save money. On top of this, nine out of 10 MPs think their constituents should have the choice to die at home. What is not to like about the first prong of Amendment 137?
I am not trying to dragoon people into dying outside hospital to save money. I want people to have as good and dignified a death as possible, with their friends and families around them. That is more likely to be achieved if they have a right to register their preference for dying at home or their place of normal residence. This would mean fewer people dying in hospital and it would also reduce pressure on A&E departments and acute hospital beds. I suggest that this is a not inconsiderable benefit—as Sir Humphrey would have said—in terms of the cost savings that could arise from allowing people to express their preferences on their right to die at home.
I accept that at this point it may be rushing our fences a bit to pay for exempting terminally-ill patients from local authority care charges. We need some detailed costings and possibly—I suspect the Minister will say this—we need to wait to hear what comes out of the pilot schemes in this area. However, we would also welcome having more information from the Minister on the progress being made in those pilots.
Accepting the first part of Amendment 137 would lay down a clear marker that Parliament wants government to move in the direction that most people want: which is the right to choose to die at home or their place of normal residence wherever practicable. This amendment gives the Government plenty of time to consult on all the detailed arrangements. It does not require those regulations to be made by any particular time and it gives the Government a lot of freedom about what the nature of those regulations might be. We should not miss the chance of this Bill being before Parliament to move in this area and put this change on the statute book. I hope the Minister will respond favourably and be prepared to entertain at Third Reading an amendment of the kind set out in the first prong of Amendment 137. I would certainly be happy—as I am sure my colleagues would—to discuss this further with him.