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NHS England. NHS Long Term Plan. 2019. (accessed 24 June 2021)

Office for National Statistics. Deaths at home increased by a third in 2020, while deaths in hospitals fell except for COVID-19. 2021. (accessed 24 June 2021)

Invisible deaths: understanding why deaths at home increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. 2021. (accessed 23 June 2021)

Increased deaths at home: is this a win?

02 July 2021
Volume 26 · Issue 7

For long, it has been believed that people prefer to die at home-or in the community-rather than in hospital, although the evidence available is not conclusive (Hoare et al, 2015). Dying when surrounded by one's friends and loved ones is an understandable preference, rather than with medical staff in attendance in a sterile hospital environment. Having said that, care in hospital at the end of life does afford some advantages, including ease of administering pain relief, managing acute palliative symptoms or providing specialist palliative care for those who require it. The NHS Long Term Plan (NHS England, 2019) also made a case for improving end-of-life care overall but especially in the community setting. High-quality community palliative care improves outcomes for patients and carers while also keeping costs for the NHS low, by ensuring hospital avoidance.

The year of the pandemic brought with it drastic changes in how healthcare is viewed and delivered, and one of the interesting outcomes has been the increase in home deaths during this time, from causes other than COVID-19 (the top causes being cancer, dementia and heart disease). In England and Wales, deaths in people's own homes, from all causes, were higher by around 33% in 2020 (167 000) than in the previous 5 years (125 000). This difference was even more marked for the population aged 85 years and over: some 144 000 people died in the community (care homes and private homes), compared with 89 000 people who died in hospital.

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