1 in 10 palliative care-related services provided at home

The number of Medicare-subsidised palliative care services received by Australians in their own home almost doubled between 2015–16 and 2019–20, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Palliative care services in Australia, shows home visits for palliative care specialist services increased by an average of 18% annually over the 5-year period, with a total of 2,240 patients receiving home visits in 2019–20. However, most palliative care services continue to be received in a hospital or surgery, with these services increasing by 12% over the same 5-year period.

‘Providing palliative care-related services in the home can be important for people with a life-limiting illness and their families, enabling them to remain in or return to their preferred location,’ said AIHW spokesperson Ms. Sushma Mathur.

Palliative care aims to improve the quality of life of patients and their families facing life-limiting illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering.

‘Historically, it was assumed that palliative care would commence only once all treatment aimed at ‘curing’ people had finished or only when a person was dying,’ Ms. Mathur said.

‘However, there are benefits to providing palliative care in association with disease-modifying therapies that aim to prolong life. It is also recognised that many people with life-limiting illnesses are not ‘cured’, but continue to live with these illnesses for many years.’

Today’s report also includes updated information on palliative care services provided in hospital, and for people living in residential aged care.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 83,500 palliative care-related hospitalisations were recorded in 2018–19, an increase of 29% between 2014–15 and 2018–19.

Of the 244,300 people living in permanent residential aged care in 2019–20, 3,200 (1.3%) were appraised as needing palliative care services. Of these, almost 1 in 3 (27%) had been diagnosed with cancer. The types of cancer most commonly reported were lung cancer (18%) and prostate cancer (14%).

Ms. Mathur noted this data only reflects whether a resident was appraised as needing palliative care, rather than whether they actually received the services. Information on actual service provision is a significant gap in the national data.

Further, national reporting on the need for palliative care in residential aged care is likely to be an underestimate, as available data are based on a funding instrument, rather than providing a comprehensive, diagnostic assessment.

This week is National Palliative Care Week, with a focus on sparking important conversations in the community about the benefits of quality palliative care, and celebrate those working and volunteering in palliative care across Australia.

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