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Ageing population to blame for increased palliative care hospitalisations

Australia’s growing and ageing population, paired with a rise in chronic and incurable illnesses, is being blamed for an unprecedented increase in palliative care hospitalisations across the nation.

The number of hospitalisations for palliative care has risen 28 percent between 2011 and 2016 (Source: Shutterstock)
The number of hospitalisations for palliative care has risen 28 percent between 2011 and 2016 (Source: Shutterstock)

A new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Palliative care services in Australia, reveals that the number of hospitalisations for palliative care rose 28 percent - from about 57,600 in 2011-12 to almost 74,000 in 2015-16 - with the overall number of hospitalisation in Australia rising by only 15 percent over the same period.

AIHW Spokesperson Matthew James says the rise in hospitalisations for palliative care is significant and was seen across all age groups.

“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 illness - has broadened this type of patients requiring palliative care,” he says.

National peak body, Palliative Care Australia (PCA), has acknowledged the research findings focusing on the increased demand for palliative care services over the past five years, as well as the low number of palliative care staff.

PCA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Liz Callaghan says the AIHW report statistics show that more investment is needed to train and recruit palliative care health professionals, especially in regional and remote areas, to reduce the “inequitable access” to palliative care that she says has led to just one in two patients who die in hospital receiving palliative care.

“Government and health services must make it a priority to fund these positions, as well as ensuring the training pathways are there for doctors and nurses to be able to specialise in palliative care,” she explains.

“The recently announced $32.8 million investment into specialist palliative care support in residential aged care is welcomed and supports PCA’s call that palliative care should be a core business in aged care, however this is contingent on matched funding from the states and territories.

“As the Australian population ages and the number of deaths increase over the next decade, we need to ensure that the palliative care workforce also increases to keep up with demand, as well as increases end of life care training for all health professionals, undergraduate and VET sector students.”

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