They warn that there is no “scientific way of diagnosing imminent death.” They write: “It is essentially a prediction, and it is possible that other considerations may come into reaching such a decision, not excluding the availability of resources.”
The Liverpool Care Pathway, so called because it was developed at the Royal Liverpool Hospital in the 1990s, aims to ensure that patients who are close to death can die without being subjected to unnecessary interference by staff. In addition to the withdrawal of fluid and medication, patients can be placed on sedation until they die.
Dr Gillian Craig, a retired geriatrician and former vice-chairman of the Medical Ethics Alliance, is one of the six signatories to The Daily Telegraph letter.
“If you are cynical about it, as I am, you can see it as a cost-cutting measure, if you don’t want your beds to be filled with old people,” she said. She advised that those who did not want to be put on the pathway should carry cards made by Dr Rosalind Bearcroft, a consultant psychiatrist from Kent, and another signatory.
Last year The Daily Telegraph reported that the numbers being put on the pathway had doubled in just two years, with tens of thousands of patients now involved. But up to half of families are not being informed of clinicians’ decision to put a relative on the pathway, the report by the Royal College of Physicians found. Advocates point out that the Liverpool Care Pathway has been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) and is backed by the Department of Health.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "People coming to the end of their lives should have a right to high quality, compassionate and dignified care.
"The Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) is not about saving money. It is an established and respected tool that is recommended by NICE and has overwhelming support from clinicians at home and abroad.
"The decision to use the pathway should involve patients and family members, and a patient's condition should be closely monitored. If, as sometimes happens, a patient improves, they are taken off the LCP and given whatever treatments best suit their new needs. To ensure the LCP is used properly, it is important that staff receive the appropriate training and support."