The Care Quality Commission is to launch an investigation into inequalities in end of life care this summer.
The review follows mounting evidence that particular groups experience poorer quality care at the end of life, and that the care they receive does not always meet their needs.
The review will examine the experience of patients with dementia, mental health needs, learning disabilities, non-cancer diagnoses, people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and people from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. It will also examine geographic variations in the quality of care.
Speaking at the CQC’s board meeting last week, chief inspector of hospitals Sir Mike Richards said: “There are a huge number of inequalities in end of life care. There are the inequalities by geography – we know that from the survey of bereaved relatives.
“There’s undoubtedly inequality by diagnosis – cancer patients get a better deal than other people. There are inequalities by where you happen to be, with hospitals doing undoubtedly the worst, and care homes doing a whole lot better. Hospices do best.
“But then on top of that, much less is known about various specific vulnerable groups.”
Holding a “thematic review” into end of life care was one of the recommendations to the CQC from the independent review of the controversial Liverpool care pathway.
The independent review panel concluded that the pathway – which recommended the withdrawal of treatment, food and water from some sedated patients in their final hours or days – was used “as an excuse for poor-quality care”.
The new CQC probe is set to begin collecting information this summer and expected to report its findings in March next year.
The review will be championed by non-executive director Louis Appleby, after the CQC board agreed last week that in future all thematic reviews should be sponsored by a named non-executive board member.
Professor Appleby said: “I think this is exactly the kind of thing that CQC should do.
“It is about sometimes marginalised groups at a particularly vulnerable time… so I think this is a really important and excellent piece of work.”