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State rejects archbishop’s call for review of care pathway

Archbishop Smith, chairman of the bishops' Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship (Photo: Mazur/

The Department of Health has rejected a call by a senior Catholic archbishop for an official inquiry into the care of terminally ill patients on the Liverpool Care Pathway.

The Archbishop of Southwark wrote to the Secretary of State for Health last month, urging him to launch a “thorough and urgent investigation” into the controversial care pathway.

In a letter dated September 27, Archbishop Peter Smith expressed concern to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt about the growing controversy surrounding the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP).

He wrote: “It does seem to me that a thorough and urgent investigation needs to take place, examining the evidence on which the criticisms that have been made of the LCP rest, so that conclusions can be reached as to whether any corrective action is needed.”

Archbishop Smith added: “If the allegations that are being made can be substantiated, there is serious cause for concern either that the LCP is in some way structurally unsound and needs to be modified or that some doctors and nurses are failing to implement the guidelines as intended.

“Equally, if the allegations are without substance, dying patients and their loved ones are at risk of being caused needless anxiety as a result of which they may well seek to avoid treatment and care from which they would benefit.”

The LCP, which is used by hospitals as a framework to guide medical care of the dying, faced fresh criticism this week after it was reported that an 85-year-old woman had died alone at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital because medics allegedly did not consult her family before placing her on the pathway.

According to reports, Olive Goom died without family or friends as hospital staff had assured relatives that there was no urgent need to visit, although they had already removed her tubes, which provided food and fluid.

Dr Anthony Cole, the Catholic chairman of the Medical Ethics Alliance, said: “The LCP is inherently hazardous and it is also unnecessary. Excellent end of life care can be delivered without referring to the LCP framework. It is time for an inquiry by the Department of Health into how the LCP is actually operating.”

But a spokeswoman for the Department of Health told The Catholic Herald that it would not be launching an official inquiry into the LCP.

She said: “We would expect all trusts to investigate any reports of abuse or clinical failure and to act accordingly.

“The Liverpool Care Pathway is supported by leading clinicians and charities such as Marie Curie and is NICE [National Institute for Clinical Excellence] recommended. We continue to fully support its proper use as a way of managing a patient’s care with dignity and respect in their last days.”

Jim Dobbin, a Catholic MP and co-chair of the Dying Well All Party Parliamentary Group, which opposes euthanasia and promotes palliative care, has expressed the group’s support for an inquiry.