New data reveals the impact of palliative care and health reform needed 

The power of quality palliative care is one of the key take outs of updated data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), but these insights also point to the need for further investment.  

In 2021, at least 58,700 patients received palliative care. The vast majority of those patients said the pain they felt because of their illness ‘disappeared or became milder’ as a result of palliative treatment, while half reported less distress from fatigue and breathing problems. 

“Easing symptoms and enabling quality of life is at the heart of palliative care, and it’s satisfying to know that the vast majority of people accessing palliative care last year felt that benefit,” says Camilla Rowland, CEO, Palliative Care Australia 

“It’s a testament to the dedication of the nurses, doctors, and allied health professionals involved in providing care, but clearly more can be done.” 

AIHW also reports that in the five years to 2020, palliative care-related hospitalisations increased by 18%, a steeper rate than that for hospitalisations for all reasons (6%) over the same period. Additionally, the average length of stay for palliative care-related admissions was almost twice as long compared with all other hospitalisations. 

“This has a big impact on our already stretched hospital system and may not be what many people want at the end of their life,” Ms Rowland says.  

KPMG has found that for every $1 you invest in palliative care services $2.13 is returned to the hospital system through reduced admissions and a better allocation of health services. 

“We continue to highlight the contribution palliative care can make to improve people’s lives and the efficiency of the health system,” Ms Rowland says. 

“The data also reveals that between 2019 and 2020 the rate of increase in the number of specialist palliative medicine doctors more than halved when compared to increases in previous years. Is that a result of burnout and staff leaving the health system? We are certainly hearing stories of that. 

“Given demand for palliative care is forecast to double before 2050, we need to invest in growing the workforce now if we are to treat people with pain and distress effectively and compassionately into the future.” 

Palliative Care Australia is grateful for the work of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration (PCOC). AIHW’s full report including further insights on COVID-19, medications, Medicare, and more is available at the AIHW website 

Thursday, 24 November 2022

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