New Guide Sets the Baseline for a Quality End of Life Care Workforce

A set of core competences and principles for health and social care staff published on June 26th could help transform the quality of end of life care in England.

The document, which aims to improve the skills and knowledge of the estimated 2.5 million people whose work brings them into some contact with those approaching death, is one of the key elements to emerge from the National End of Life Care Strategy published by the Department of Health (DH) last year.

The strategy called for a "cultural shift in attitudes and behaviour related to end of life care" in the workplace.

The DH and the National End of Life Care Programme commissioned Skills for Health and Skills for Care to develop the core competences and principles published today. The two sector skills councils will now continue working with frontline organisations on their practical application in delivering care.

The document is the first outcome of a three-strand workforce development programme - a suite of e-learning resources developed by e-Learning for Health will be launched next January and a communication skills programme will be available later in 2010.

The four groups of core competences and seven principles are intended to support workforce development and training across all relevant professional and staff groups at all levels and in all care settings. They are under-pinned by the national strategy's commitment to end of life care that responds to the needs and wishes of the individual and his or her family.

The four competence groups are:

· Communication skills

· Assessment and Care Planning

· Symptom Management and

· Advance Care Planning.

Claire Henry, the director of the National End of Life Care Programme, said: "These competences and principles should provide a grounding and common foundation for staff and employers to build on. They will equip staff to work confidently and professionally with people at the end of their lives and their families and friends." m/f

While individual workers in both health and social care will find the package helpful, it is also aimed at those planning or delivering education and workforce needs. Commissioners of end of life care services could use it to assess whether the organisations they contract with have staff with the knowledge and skills needed to deliver high quality end of life care.

Christina Pond, Executive Director of Standards and Qualifications at Skills for Health, said: "These competences and principles should be of interest to a wide group of staff, whether they are providing or commissioning care. They will also help education providers to offer appropriate learning and development."

"The national strategy emphasised that the quality of end of life care we deliver depends on the skills, knowledge and attitudes of many staff - not just the few thousand working directly in palliative care."

Skill for Care Chief Executive Officer Andrea Rowe said: "People facing the end of their life deserve the highest quality of care delivered in the simplest way. Clearly all those involved in providing end of life care have a responsibility to ensure they have the skills and knowledge to do their job as well as possible.

"This document, with its emphasis on individualised care and inter-agency working to improve communication, should help workers and managers deliver quality end of life services. We will continue working with organisations delivering care in the development of practical support and tools for implementing these competences and principles. "