Hospitalisation for end of life care rising fast

Choices: During National Palliative Care Week, people are encouraged to discuss their wishes with their loved ones.
Choices: During National Palliative Care Week, people are encouraged to discuss their wishes with their loved ones.

Palliative care-related hospitalisations have been rising at a faster rate than other hospitalisations, a report released this month by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reveals.

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.

The report shows that between 2012-13 and 2016-17, palliative care-related hospitalisations rose by more than 25 per cent from almost 62,000 to over 77,000. This is greater than the 18 per cent increase recorded for all hospitalisations over the same period.

"Although it's difficult to be definitive about the reasons for this rise, Australia's growing and ageing population-paired with a rise in chronic and incurable illnesses-has led to an increased need for palliative care," AIHW spokesman Matthew James said.

As in previous years, patients aged 75 years and over accounted for over half (53 per cent) of palliative care-related hospitalisations, while one in 10 were patients aged under 55 years.

The average age of patients was 73, with little differences between the sexes.

The report also shows that almost half of palliative care-related hospitalisations were for patients with cancer, specifically pancreatic (one-third of hospitalisations).

This week is National Palliative Care Week. One of the key messages is the need for Australians to plan ahead for their end-of-life care, and discuss it with their loved ones and health professionals.

"The report shows us that more people being admitted to hospital are requiring palliative care services, but we don't know how many of these people would preferred to have received palliative care elsewhere," Mr James said.

A recent survey of 1000 Australians shows 79 per cent of responders think it is important to think and talk about their preferences for care at the end of life, but only 25 per cent had talked to their family, and only six per cent had talked to a doctor.

Reasons for not discussing it included being uncomfortable talking about end of life, that people weren't sick, were too young, or didn't want to upset their loved ones.

This year the Liberal government promised $3.25 million funding for paediatric palliative care, to increase funding to the paediatric palliative care sector.

Funding will help develop a national paediatric palliative care action plan and will include resources to better empower families to support loved ones during their illness and also as they approach the end of life.