Thousands of Australians are dying in pain and without their families by their side, a new report by the Sydney Morning Herald has suggested.
Palliative Care Australia has revealed that just one palliative medicine specialist is available for every 704 patient deaths in Australia annually, according to the report. This means that it is nearly impossible for all patients to die in a way that they want to and with all their requests being fully met.
Palliative Care Australia is now calling on the government to make palliative care a priority and has even suggested that a ‘national palliative care commissioner’ be appointed to improve current conditions.
The fresh calls come six months after a Productivity Commission report into human services including palliative care found that “too may people approaching the end of life miss out on quality end-of-life care”, with few of the 70 per cent of Aussies who’d prefer to die at home actually able to do so. Instead, more than 80,000 people die in hospitals each year, it found, and about 60,000 in residential aged care facilities.
“Without significant policy reform, tens of thousands of people will die in a way, and in a place, that does not reflect their values or their choices,” the commission found. “Their end-of-life journey will likely be punctuated with avoidable, or unwanted, admissions to hospital with the confusion, loss of dignity and loss of control that comes with it. This is not acceptable.”
At present, the purpose of palliative care in Australia is to enhance the quality of life for people whose life is coming to an end in a hospital or other care facility. It strives to fulfil an array of choices that the patient makes, including where they want to die and the kind of care that they receive in the lead-up to their final days.
But while the Productivity Commission says that 70 per cent of Australians request to die at home, Palliative Care Australia estimates that just 14 per cent actually do – a result of having just 213 palliative medicine specialists nationwide.
“[Relatives] might say their loved one died in pain or they were really struggling, they were really uncomfortable, they were scared – that really is a sign that their symptoms were not being managed appropriately,” Palliative Care Australia’s Liz Callaghan told the SMH.
She added that most people requested to have their pain managed and to be surrounded by loved ones when they passed away. As a way of improving the current situation, the organisation believes that more specialists and nurses need to be trained – particularly when it comes to dealing with grief and aged care.
Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt has acknowledged the importance of palliative care and has suggested previously that a national palliative care strategy was being developed for 2018.