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Hospitals faced with rising demand for palliative care

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The double whammy of Australia’s ageing population and a rise in chronic and incurable diseases is being linked to a surge in demand for palliative care in hospitals.

A report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, released for National Palliative Care Week, shows the use of palliative care in hospitals rising at almost twice the rate of other medical treatments.

Palliative care aims to improve the quality of life of patients and their families facing a terminal or life-limiting illness by preventing and relieving suffering.

The number of hospital admissions for palliative care rose from 57,600 in 2011-12 to almost 74,000 in 2015-16 — an increase of 28 per cent compared with the total hospital admissions rising 15 per cent.

Cancer was responsible for half of hospital admissions and deaths among palliative care patients.

AIHW spokesman Matthew James said demand for palliative care services in hospitals had been rising at a faster rate than other hospital admissions.

“The hospitalisation rate for palliative care rose across all age groups over this period,” he said.

“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 broadened the type of patients requiring palliative care.

“Overall, about 157,000 people died in Australia in 2015-16 and almost half were an admitted patient in hospital at the time of their death.”

The report also shows that in 2016-17, about 15,000 patients were subsidised by Medicare for their visit to a physician specialising in palliative care.

“At the core of palliative care is the aim to provide relief from pain and other distressing symptoms, and medications can be central to this,” Mr James said.

A key message of National Palliative Care Week is to plan ahead for end-of-life care.

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