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A new report shows palliative care hospitalisations are growing in Australia

Photo: Palliative care need rising in Australia
A higher proportion of the Australian population is going to hospital for end-of-life care than ever before.

New data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows that palliative care hospitalisations are growing faster than all other hospitalisations - increasing to 19 per cent between 2010-11 to 2014-15.

This is greater than the 15 per cent increase recorded for hospitalisations for all reasons over the same period.

The goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life of patients with an active, progressive disease that has little or no prospect of a cure.

It is provided in almost all settings, including hospitals aged-care homes.
In 2014-15, about 155,600 people died in Australia, and almost half died as an admitted patient in hospital.

Just over half of palliative care patients were aged 75 and over, and a similar proportion involved cancer as the main diagnosis.

An ageing population and a rise in chronic and incurable illnesses are the likely key drivers for this increase, says AIHW spokesman Mathew James.

"If you look at the proportion of palliative care related hospitalisations that are for those aged 85 and over, that's grown from 19.6 per cent in 2010-11 to 22.8 per cent in 2014-15," he said

While the report shows more people are admitted to hospital requiring palliative care services, what it doesn't indicate is how many of these people would've preferred to have received palliative care services elsewhere, noted Mr James.

Palliative Care Australia CEO Liz Callaghan says most people want to be able to die at home.

"We know that 70 per cent of Australians want to die at home rather than a hospital, but dying at home means you have to be able to access support and community based palliative care," Ms Callaghan said.

However, like any health issue equitable access to community based palliative care is a "concern".

"Options for people who receive palliative care is always dependent on where they live and their socio-economic status" Ms Callaghan said.

"If you look at that data it will show you that people living outside major cities have less access to community based palliative care options."

Ms Callaghan says greater investment in palliative care services, particularly for people living outside of major cities, is needed so a person's choice of where to die is not compromised.

Families also need to have an open conversation about death and dying, she said.

"We know that if people can talk about it more easily and can identify what their wishes and values are at the end of life then they're more likely to get that when the time comes."

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