Access to Palliative Care Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:07 am on 14th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 11:07 am, 14th June 2019

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who has been consistent in pursuing not just palliative care but the whole area of end-of-life situations. She is much to be admired.

I welcome this Bill and I can see the difficulty in adding new clauses. It is rather like an extended Grand National; for every new clause you add, there is another hedge for people to fall at. I have a lot of sympathy for the aim of this Bill and its length. I see this Bill as putting down a very important signpost. I did not speak in yesterday’s debate, but one thing that comes through clearly is not only that people are living longer but that there is a big challenge for the future in the third generation and its life in society. This is part of it.

I welcome the proposal to produce a strategy. There is of course a dichotomy between postcodes and local determination. When people go to vote, they vote for a national government and a national health service. To my mind, it is perfectly consistent with local determination for a national framework to be established, which says to local bodies, “You have freedom at a certain level, but you must work within these overall policy guidelines”. That is quite legitimate and I think it is a good thing to do.

I want to move on to another area, which is also to do with palliative care and on which we have had support from the noble Baroness—the Dying to Work campaign. We talk about palliative care, but there are many people in society who are diagnosed with terminal diseases but do not know when the termination date is. There is and has been a tendency for HR departments in companies to say, “Right, you’re ill, we’ll push you out”. That can often mean loss of income, which is serious for a family, a loss of respect and the feeling that they are valued, which is important for a family, and a loss of death in service benefits, which can be quite vital to a family.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is not here, but I had tremendous support from him for the campaign run by the General and Municipal Workers’ Union and the TUC to get companies to voluntarily sign up to the code looking to protect people who are at work and diagnosed with a terminal illness. I am sorry to have to say to the Minister that I detect a great lethargy in government that is not helpful. I ask her, in looking at the overall area of terminal care, to remember the person who set up this campaign, Jacci Woodcock, who was recently honoured in the honours list, and that this has all-party support, from not only the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, but Pauline Latham in the House of Commons, who is Jacci’s MP, and many other people who are looking forward to strengthening this area of palliative care. Sadly, Jacci’s health is beginning to fade.

Palliative care is a huge field that covers many things. I cannot remember who made the very obvious comment that we are all going to die one day; it is a case of where the palliative care begins. If you are diagnosed with a terminal illness and you are at work, I suggest that that is one part of it. I do not seek to add it to the Bill because of my earlier comment on its limitations, but I seek to add it to the debate.