More funding needed for palliative care, experts warn

Palliative care is the type of healthcare that’s very rarely thought of – until you or a loved one needs it. But medical experts from across the country say there is alarming funding shortfall for end-of-life care, and we owe to all of us to get it right.

For the uninitiated, palliative care is healthcare designed to ease the pain and suffering of an individual faced with a terminal diagnosis. Rather than looking to cure the patient, this type of care aims to make a person’s final days as comfortable as possible.

More than just dealing with physical pain, palliative care encompasses a range of services including psychological support for the both the patient and their families.

It’s care that each of us – or someone we love – will most likely need at some point, but it’s often treated as an afterthought, especially when compared to the attention healthcare focused on prolonging life gets.

This is sadly reflected in funding for palliative care, and now medical experts around the country are sounding the alarm over what they say is a critical lack of money for palliative services.

Who is responsible for palliative care funding?

Like most healthcare funding in Australia, funding for palliative care is ultimately the responsibility of the various individual state and territory governments, with financial support from the federal government.

The federal government contributes part-funding for palliative care services in each state and territory through the National Partnership Agreement on Improving Public Hospitals, managed by the Department of Health.

It also directs funding for palliative services in aged care facilities through the Comprehensive Palliative Care in Aged Care measure. Both initiatives are managed by the Department of Health.

But the rest of the money, and the plan for how that money is used, comes from state and territory governments – and it’s here that medical experts have raised concerned.

For instance, in NSW, it was revealed earlier this year that there has been a $249 million cut to palliative care funding in the past 12 months.

Dr Michael Bonning, president of the Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) NSW branch says the cuts have had a demonstrable effect on people’s ability to access palliative services.

Waiting while vulnerable

“Waitlists to see a palliative care doctor for patients who are rapidly approaching the end of life in Western Sydney are taking multiple weeks,” he said.

“When patients reach the stage of palliative care they are at their most vulnerable. They have reached a stage in life when they need and deserve enormous respect and support. It is vital these vulnerable people are provided with the services they need and deserve.”

Hopefully today’s NSW state budget includes more palliative care funding, otherwise it will be relying on the $1.7 billion promised over four years in the 2023-24 budget.

Ahead of the Queensland state budget, the AMA’s QLD branch not only called for its state government to increase palliative funding, but also pushed for a review of where $171 million of funding allocated in the 2022-23 budget has been spent.

“All Queenslanders deserve the dignity and comfort of high-quality health services as they age and reach the end of their lives,” AMA Queensland President Dr Maria Boulton said.

“We are calling for an independent review of the rural and remote community-based palliative care services awarded by tender to deliver the $171 million.”

But when the QLD budget dropped last week, there was some mention of extra funding to build a multi-purpose health facility in Far North Queensland, which would include palliative services, but nothing for palliative care statewide.

And there was no mention of the review of the $171 million.

Investment in care

Down south in Victoria, and their state government announced $70 million for aged care and palliative services in 2024-25, with $38 million of that going to palliative care specifically.

“This investment cares for Victorians at the end of their life, with support provided in our aged care facilities, hospitals, and most importantly, in patients’ homes,” the Victorian government said in a statement.

“We have been proud to invest in the services and staff that ensure Victorians get respect and dignity in their final years.”

Janet Phillips, CEO of Victorian palliative services provider Peninsula Home Hospice, welcomed the announcement and says she hopes the extra funding can help providers like her can ease the pressure on an already overstretched hospital system.

“With strategic allocations, we can alleviate strain on hospital systems and cultivate compassionate environments where individuals find solace in their final moments,” she says.

But will it be enough in the long run? Only time will tell. But it’s vitally important we get palliative care right, as it something that will touch all of us at some point in our lives.

Do you have any experience with palliative care? How can we better help people at the end of life? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Why palliative care is not just somewhere to ‘park’ a loved one

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.
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