Belgium: Professionals Warn about Lack of Access to Palliative Care


To mark the 20th anniversary of the law instituting palliative care, on June 14, 2022, three Palliative Care Federations in Belgium from Walloon, Brussels and Flanders joined forces to explain what palliative care is , and also to warn about the lack of access to palliative care.

“Palliative care… is all about life! ».

Healthcare professionals have chosen this catch phrase in order to warn about preconceived ideas and bad images associated with palliative care in Belgium, especially since their objective is specifically to attend to patients’ needs as diligently as possible.

In a joint statement these Palliative Care Federations point out that “Almost 100,000 patients per year are eligible for palliative care, although many do not have access.”  Already in 2020, the federal evaluation commission highlighted this issue in their report by stating that “The number of beds in palliative care units must be quickly increased to meet patients’ needs, location and accessibility. The report also specified the need for funding “to cover the current costs of healthcare staff and to meet the costs for the services provided.” The evaluation commission also recommended that funding be allocated for psychologist positions in palliative care units.

Professionals lament that not enough emphasis is placed on the possibility of early care, which would considerably improve the quality of life for both patients and their loved ones.

The conditions for receiving the “palliative care package” are scheduled to be updated in 2023 by the Federal Center of Expertise for Healthcare in Belgium. The End-of-Life Care Research Group and others are already requesting that this financial aid package be extended to patients with a life expectancy of more than 3 years. Currently, this financial assistance to help cover the cost that palliative patients incur at home, (medicines, healthcare equipment and medical devices) is only granted under certain conditions, including:

  • have an incurable disease;
  • suffer a severely deteriorating physical or psychological condition;
  • have a condition that no therapy can improve;
  • have a life expectancy of less than 3 months;
  • have physical, social and spiritual needs which require committing to a very elaborate set up;
  • express a wish to die at home;
  • and meet the conditions set out in the application form, known as “Medical Advice”.

The extension beyond three months would contribute to the quality of life for both the patient and his entourage, and consequently contribute to improving the current state of palliative care being provided.

Hospitals often transfer patients to palliative care units when they can no longer do anything to cure the patient since they consider euthanasia to be a palliative care option, when, in my opinion, it is completely the opposite,” stated a caregiver in the book “Euthanasia, Behind the Scenes”, (Mols editions, published in 2019).

It would be interesting to survey the public and the caregivers in Belgium on how the legalization of euthanasia has affected the image of palliative care and how this may be creating confusion.

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