A PATHWAY scheme for terminally ill patients used by Great Western Hospital has been praised as “a fantastic step forward” by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The Pathway was criticised by the family of Musosa Kazembe, a distinguished journalist who died at the hospital a year ago after spending weeks on the regime.

A series of cases across the country in recent months have raised concern about the scheme, which is designed to ease the suffering of patients in their final days.

Mr Hunt said: “It’s a fantastic step forward, the Liverpool Care Pathway, and we need to be unabashed about that. It’s basically designed to bring hospice-style care to terminally-ill people in hospitals.

“Inevitably, people do die in hospitals but they weren’t getting the quality of care in those final few hours,” the Health Secretary added.

Mr Hunt told London LBC Radio that patients were given a “dignified” death without “lots of tubes going in and out of their body”.

The Pathway encourages the removal of medication, fluids and other treatments which are no longer beneficial, and the Great Western Hospital is one of more than 300 hospitals nationally that use the scheme.

Mr Hunt said: “The Liverpool Care Pathway was developed with Marie Curie, with Macmillan, with Age UK and a number of other charities to try to bring that dignity to people in their last moments.”

Mr Kazembe, who reported on the fight against racism across Africa and Europe, spent weeks on the Pathway and at one point woke up to ask for water.

Most patients are on the scheme for 33 hours before death. The 74-year-old’s family said he was only given one day’s medication, two days’ food and six days’ water.

The hospital has said it did its utmost to meet the family and provide them with information including medical records and to discuss their concerns.

According to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the total number of deaths of patients on the pathway for 2010/11 and in 2012, there were 741 deaths and 201 of these were on the LCP. In 2011 there were 427 out of 1,296 and in 2010 there were 377 out of 1,248. 

Between April and June 2011 inclusive, the average number of hours in which a person’s care was supported by the LCP before death was 27.