This year's theme for National Palliative Care Week is 'Palliative Care… It's more than you think!', which aims to raise awareness about the benefits of quality palliative care.
Palliative care services are an important part of end of life care for older Australians, but its services in aged care were limited during the height of COVID-19 in Australia.
On Sunday, joint patrons of Palliative Care Australia (PCA), Governor-General David Hurley and Linda Hurley officially launched the special week.
"National Palliative Care Week 2020 is about broadening Australians’ understanding of palliative care," says General Hurley.
"It is care that serves both the patient and their family, and the support continues even after the patient has died, helping loved ones to cope with their grief and bereavement.
“National Palliative Care Week also provides an opportunity for us to acknowledge our wonderful health care workers, especially those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Each day, there are so many good people working and volunteering in palliative care across Australia, including doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, aged care staff, counsellors, pastoral care workers, chaplains and volunteers, and many more. All dedicated to helping people live as well as possible and for as long as possible."
Board Chair of PCA, Professor Meera Agar, says she is excited to be launching the 2020 National Palliative Care Week, adding that it is a valuable opportunity to highlight the benefits of palliative care.
"One of the great myths about palliative care is that it is only a synonym for end-of-life care. It is so much more than that," explains Professor Agar.
"Palliative care is about positive conversations and rapidly mobilising the support needed to manage physical symptoms, provide emotional and psychological support, and put in [place] the plan of care, which allows the person to meet their goals."
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of PCA, Rohan Greenland, adds that while PCA chose this year’s theme before the COVID-19 outbreak, he believes it was still just as relevant today.
"It is more important than ever to discuss quality palliative care and end of life preferences, given the current challenging and uncertain circumstances associated with the global COVID-19 pandemic," says Mr Greenland.
"As the Australian population rapidly ages and grows, and more people live longer but with more complex chronic conditions, the need for palliative care is increasing. National Palliative Care Week can serve as a reminder of this situation.
"This year’s theme, ‘Palliative Care…it’s more than you think’, highlights the work of not only hundreds of palliative care specialists and palliative care nurses, but also the support provided by general practitioners, volunteers, allied health professionals, community workers and everyone who works within the palliative care sphere to help fulfil this increasing need for palliative care."
Mr Greenland encourages Australians to get involved in the National Palliative Care Week virtual events scheduled throughout the week.
For more information about National Palliative Care Week, head to the Palliative Care Australia website.
Federal Government invests in palliative care
At the start of National Palliative Care Week, the Federal Government has announced a $57.2 million investment into improving palliative care in aged care facilities across Australia.
Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, says this funding will reduce the physical and emotional distress for individuals who require palliative care and their families.
It is likely that this funding will be matched by State and Territories with South Australia (SA), the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), and the Northern Territory (NT) Governments already signed up.
Minister Colbeck says, "This investment will assist senior Australians nearing the end of their life in residential aged care to receive quality palliative care.
"We know how important palliative care is in supporting a person’s physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs.
"This funding will help reinforce the measures in place to provide a high level of care during what can be a tremendously difficult time."
Minister Colbeck adds that National Palliative Care Week puts an emphasis on how vital the service is in Australian communities and also recognises the efforts of the professional health workforce who deliver palliative care services.
Federal Government has committed funding of more than $3.8 million to SA, $925,000 to the ACT, $5.7 million to Western Australia (WA), and $396,000 to the NT.
Other States, Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, have all indicated that they will commit funding to palliative care.
"The States and Territories will implement a range of approaches to improve models of care for palliative care in residential aged care facilities," says Minister Colbeck.
"This could include the recruitment of palliative care nurse practitioners, the training of aged care workers in palliative care, and engagement with hospitals to address the palliative care needs of patients in residential aged care.
"Research shows palliative care intervention is linked to substantial reductions in the length of hospital stays, fewer hospital admissions and enables people to die in their place of choice.
"Caring for people at the end of life is one of the most important things we can do and this is another step by the Commonwealth to ensure the process is supported."