A dire lack of palliative care services is one of the key issues Queensland Parliament’s aged-care inquiry has heard at public hearings across the state.
The inquiry is examining the adequacy of Queensland’s end-of-life care including palliative care, and is looking into support for laws to allow voluntary assisted suicide.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge presented a submission to the inquiry in Brisbane on August 23.
“Every human person is intrinsically valuable, endowed with an inviolable dignity and a gift to us all,” Archbishop Coleridge wrote in The Catholic Leader earlier this year.
Postcode lottery determines care
In May, 18 specialist doctors told the Queensland inquiry that many terminally ill patients were dying before they received access to palliative care.
“There are regional, rural and remote communities with no direct access to specialist palliative care,” the Queensland Specialist Palliative Care Services Directors’ Group told the inquiry.
The doctors’ submission detailed a “postcode lottery” that determined what home equipment dying people could access, depending on which hospital and health service they fell under.
The Queensland charity and state peak body for palliative care Palliative Care Queensland said quantifying palliative care was difficult because quality palliative care should be available to anyone with a terminal illness – this included babies to the elderly, and people who died from a variety of causes including cancer, cardiac conditions, dementia, motor neurone disease and many other causes.
It also includes both specialist and generalist palliative care.
Another $200 million needed
“A conservative estimate of an additional $200 million per year would be required to provide adequate services across the state, including to centres like Mackay, Cairns and the Torres Strait islands, where currently no specialist palliative care services are available,” PCQ chief executive officer Shyla Mills, a palliative care nurse with 20 years’ experience in the field, said.
“According to the national palliative care service development guidelines, Queensland has approximately half the recommended number of specialist palliative care medical staff and it is likely to be similar for nursing, allied health, psychological and spiritual support staff as well.
“If it’s about choice, quality palliative care is not currently a choice for everyone. If it’s about reducing the burden of suffering, then palliative care is able to help.
“We would like to see compassionate communities mobilised across the state. “These are networks of support around people that are at the end phase of life – these include more than just health services and supports, compassionate communities are social and spiritual supports.
“We would like to see compassionate neighbours, compassionate schools and compassionate workplaces. Palliative care is everyone’s business.
“Palliative Care is a human right.”
“Excellent palliative care can support 100 per cent of the population.
“Everyone is affected by loss, dying and grief at least one time in their life.
“It is holistic and it ensures that people have all the emotional, social, psychological and spiritual, as well as medical and symptom support when people need it and in a place they feel comfortable and safe, this may be home or a hospice or a hospital.”
Archbishop Coleridge said every human person was intrinsically valuable, endowed with an inviolable dignity and a gift to us all.
“This dignity doesn’t depend on gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, age or physical and intellectual capacity,” he said.
“Those in aged care and end of life care are among the most vulnerable, and care for them goes to the heart of the Gospel, which is why the Church – you and me – has something to say on these issues.
“We are very much in favour of high-quality aged care and palliative care, and we would urge the government to allocate more resourcing to these.”
The MP chairing the parliamentary inquiry, Aaron Harper, has vowed to also investigate understaffing and the drugging of elderly residents at the now closed Earle Haven nursing home at Nerang.
He described the sudden shutdown of the home and the evacuation of about 70 residents as a “national shame”, with damning evidence presented to the royal commission into aged care of poor management practices, understaffing and the overuse of physical restraints and psychotropic drugs on elderly residents at Earle Haven.
“People are deeply shocked by what has happened there, and angry at the apparent failure of the federal agencies that are supposed to protect the safety and wellbeing of the elderly in nursing homes,” Mr Harper said.