Alarming gaps in end-of-life care based on location and diagnosis


A new report is shining a light on the lack of access to proper palliative care for thousands of Australians facing terminal illnesses. The data, released during National Palliative Care Week, highlights the immense benefits of quality end-of-life care but also exposes deeply troubling gaps in who is able to receive it.

The findings from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare paint a distressing picture – some 110,000 people each year, or 2,000 per week, have life-limiting conditions like cancer, dementia, or heart disease that require palliative care. However, a staggering 62% of those individuals did not receive specialised services to manage their symptoms and provide critical emotional support.

Camilla Rowland, CEO of Palliative Care Australia, says the data reveals stark disparities in who is able to access this essential care. “It’s important to note that not all people with a terminal diagnosis require specialist palliative care, but we also know that access to and understanding of palliative care within primary health and aged care – where non-specialist palliative care could be delivered effectively – needs to be much better,” she explains.

“Some of these findings may cause distress in our sector, which is a skilled, compassionate community of doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, and volunteers, but the AIHW data also points to the positive impact and power of palliative care when people are able to access it.”

The report found that in some rural and remote communities, only around 15% of terminally ill patients were able to get palliative care services. This stands in stark contrast to the proven benefits – the overwhelming majority of palliative patients reported better pain and symptom management, as well as improved psychological and spiritual well-being after receiving this specialised care.

For Rowland, these findings, while distressing, are a wake-up call for the healthcare system. “There is so much more to understand and reflect on in this new data, which is something we will do with our members and services around Australia.”

“Our work with the Department of Health and Aged Care and Ministers Butler, Kearney, and Wells is positive and I know the actions that need to come from this deepen the health and aged care reforms underway.”

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