Palliative Care ensures that people are comfortable and, as far as possible, pain-free towards the end of their life. None of us knows when our end will be – or that of those we love. Life is unpredictable and Palliative Care Week (19-25 May) is a time to reflect on this.
Australia has a good reputation for high quality end-of-life care. But that high quality tends to be concentrated in metropolitan areas. People should have the best support towards the end of their lives whether they are in a big city or in a small town. Rural and remote areas have a higher proportion of older people and higher rates of mortality as well as lower life expectancy. But people of any age may need palliative care.
Given Australia’s variety of cultural backgrounds and the higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people outside the major cities, culturally safe palliative care is important. For example, respecting the strong connections to country held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the cultural obligations associated with dying, can make final stages of life more comfortable for Indigenous patients and their families.
For the person spending their final months, weeks or days at home, having the support of a nearby health service if they need it is reassuring. Temporary accommodation for the families of rural patients is available at some health services. But palliative care services are under-funded and not well distributed across Australia. Major challenges for such services include the effects of distance and health workforce shortages. But wherever people live, they deserve high quality palliative care.
Supporting quality of life for people near the end of their life is an important part of health service provision in rural communities, as elsewhere. The Alliance has recommended the inclusion of palliative care as part of a National Rural Health Plan to support the National Strategic Framework for Rural and Remote Health.
You can get help and information about these issues from the peak body Palliative Care Australia www.palliativecare.org.au and the Department of Health and Ageing’s CareSearch www.caresearch.org.au Other relevant information can be found at Pastoral and Spiritual Care for Older People www.pascop.org.au and also in the National Rural Health Alliance’s Fact Sheet 34 at www.ruralhealth.org.au
Professor Lesley Barclay - Chair: 0412 282 801