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Demand for palliative care on the rise

Admissions have increased by more than 50 per cent, latest data reveals.

Palliative care admissions have increased by more than 50 per cent in ten years, according to a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released last week.

There were over 52,000 palliative care admissions in 2008-09, up 56 per cent on 1999-00 figures.

Half of the patients were aged 75 years or older, while 12 per cent were younger than 55.

The report, Trends in palliative care in Australian hospitals, includes data on end-of-life care delivered in a hospital – whether in a palliative ward, a hospice associated with a hospital or other admitted patient beds.

The report shows patients spent 12 and a half days on average in palliative care in 2008-09 compared to the typical hospital stay of just over three days.

Most of the increase over the 10 years was in public hospitals. And while total care admissions went up over the period, the average length of stay remained stable.

Coinciding with the release of the report, the federal minister for aged care Mark Butler said the government was giving more than $1.6 billion to the states and territories for services including palliative care.

Butler said the money will provide community-based services and 1300 new subacute care beds across Australia by 2013-14.

"This will provide patients with access to quality care and support that is appropriate to their needs and the respect and dignity that they deserve,” he said.

Butler said the commitment was backed by the National Palliative Care Strategy.

“The strategy commits all levels of government to providing quality palliative care services to Australians who need them, while improving the community's understanding that dying and death are a normal part of our life cycle that should be respected."

Elsewhere in the report it says 60 per cent of palliative care patients had a primary diagnosis of cancer in 2008-09. Cancer afflicted 77 per cent of patients when additional diagnoses were included.

Indigenous Australians, males and people from low socioeconomic areas had higher rates of palliative care admissions than average.

Half of all deaths took place in an admitted patient location of a hospital in 2008-09. Palliative care patients accounted for 34 per cent of deaths that year up from 21 per cent 10 years earlier.

The AIHW released a related report on the same day looking at three different approaches of identifying patients where palliative care is a significant part of the care they receive.

The first approach uses care type information only, the second uses diagnosis information only and the third involves a combination of the two.

AIHW recommended the third approach in its second report and this was also the one used in the analyses of the main report. The national Palliative Care Working Group also endorsed the method in March this year.

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