Terminally ill patients in the north are receiving less palliative care than those down south, a new report has revealed.
The joint study by the University of Leeds and Hospice UK has found that in general, patients in the north of England receive on average 20 days less care than the rest of the country.
A night to remember 50,000 loved ones cared for by St Gemma's Hospice in Leeds
Patients in the north were referred to hospice care around 35 days before death.
This is compared to the 55 days of hospice care patients received in the south and the Midlands and the east.
Family of first ever St Gemma's Hospice patient praise care on 40th anniversary
The researchers have said that some adults with incurable diseases like cancer, dementia or liver failure were not receiving palliative care from hospices early enough.
According to previous clinical trial research, patients with diseases like cancer or dementia should be referred for palliative care between three and six months before they die.
Dr Matthew Allsop co-wrote the paper and is a University Academic Fellow in the St Gemma's Academic Unit of Palliative Care.
He said: “We know that people have a better quality of life if they are referred for palliative care early, but our findings suggest that this is not happening in a majority of cases.
"A large number of patients are accessing palliative care in the last weeks of life.
"Where access is happening, we found that younger patients and those with cancer are receiving the longest duration of care.
"This is in contrast to an ageing population and the rising number of people with conditions such as dementia who could benefit from palliative care.”
Study co-author Dr Sarah Russell, Head of Research at Hospice UK, said there are misconceptions about who needs hospice care.
She said: “Palliative and hospice care is not just for people in the last days of life, it is there to provide support for anyone with life-limiting illnesses, and their families, to help them live well until they die
“Tackling the issues about the timing of referrals is crucial, to ensure that people with life-limiting conditions get the vital support they need.
This is especially important given the predicted changes to the UK’s population, with more older people living for longer, often with chronic health conditions.”