GREATER effort should be made to introduce palliative care options to elderly patients who often miss out on such services, according to a new report.

Those aged 70 and over have more unmet pain needs and less access to generalist and specialist palliative care than younger patients, the study by the University of Edinburgh and terminal illness charity Marie Curie found. It examined the end-of-life experiences of 65 patients in Scotland who were diagnosed with brain and bowel cancer, liver failure and frailty.

The findings suggest referrals to palliative care services were not made for many older people because they were not aware of their options for this type of support.

Meanwhile, some healthcare professionals did not think it relevant for elderly patients.

The study concluded this was unlikely to be an “ageist response”, but rather there were “less clear signs that would have indicated a patient’s condition might soon deteriorate and they would now benefit from palliative care”.

It highlights that there can be a lack of a clear diagnosis of dying, as people aged 70 and over are viewed as merely old or infirm.

Frailty, the most common condition in the age group in the study, is a terminal condition that many older people develop, and they would likely benefit from palliative care to improve their quality of life.

For people with conditions other than cancer there is often an assumption that palliative and end-of-life care would not benefit them, the study found.

Report co-author Professor Scott Murray said: “People need to know that palliative care has something to offer everyone so they can live as well as possible wherever they are.”

“It can prevent much unnecessary distress by helping people with whatever worries them most, whether they have cancer, heart failure or are living with frailty.”

SNP MSP Kate Forbes said: “Of the 54,000 people who die every year in Scotland, about 40,000 need palliative care and it is deeply concerning that 11,000 – over a quarter in this bracket – are missing out on that care.

“This new research raises some important points, particularly that practitioners should be given specialist training to address this issue and that health and social care partnerships must consider the palliative care needs of older people when designing these services – which will help patients and families alike.

“The Scottish Government’s strategic framework for action on palliative and end-of-life care recognises a need to focus more on palliative care for older people and I wholeheartedly support its vision that everyone who needs such care will have access to it by 2021.”