Background: This study investigated whether indices of social deprivation were related to the proportion of cancer patients who died at home.
Methods: Data were derived from death registrations for all cancer deaths 1985-1994 in England. Two indices of deprivation (Underprivileged Area Score (UPA), or Jarman, and Townsend scores) were calculated for each electoral ward; 1991 Census data were used. The scores use combinations of variables, including the percentage in overcrowded homes, the percentage of elderly people living alone, the percentage of one-parent families, etc. A high score indicates more deprivation. The main outcome measures were the proportion (in five and ten year averages) of cancer deaths which occurred at home, calculated for every electoral ward (with populations usually ranging from 5000 to 11,000). Spearman rho was used to test for correlations between the proportion of cancer deaths at home and deprivation score. Electoral wards were categorized by deprivation score into three groups of equal size and analysed over 10 years. Multivariate analysis was used to determine the relative association of different patient based and electoral ward variables with cancer death at home. p < 0.05 (two-tailed) was taken as significant.
Results: There were over 1.3 million death registrations from cancer in the 10 years. The proportion who died at home was 0.27, in hospital 0.47, and other setting 0.26. There were wide variations (0.05-0.75) in the proportion of people who died at home in different electoral wards. Small inverse correlations were found between the percentage who died at home and the UPA (-0.35; p < 0.001) and Townsend (-0.26; p < 0.001) scores. The correlations were greatest in North Thames (-0.63, UPA) and smallest in West Midlands (-0.20, UPA). The proportion of home deaths for the different bands of deprivation were: 0.30 (low deprivation), 0.27 (middle deprivation) and 0.24 (high deprivation). Plotting the trends over 10 years suggests no change in this relationship. Multiple regression analysis predicted several ward and patient characteristics and accounted for 30 per cent of the variation. Increased age (patient variable), Jarman score and ethnic minorities (both ward variables) were associated with fewer patients dying at home. Being male and having cancer of the digestive organs were associated with home death.
Conclusion: There are wide variations in the percentage of cancer deaths at home in different electoral wards. Social factors are inversely correlated with home cancer death, and may explain part of this variation. Home care in deprived areas may be especially difficult to achieve.