Q&A with Palliative Care Australia’s Camilla Rowland: Addressing a demand set to double by 2050

Camilla Rowland, Chief Executive Officer, Palliative Care Australia

This week is National Palliative Care Week. Inside Ageing (IA) spoke to Camilla Rowland about their important work in promoting training, support, and advocacy to enhance palliative care, addressing a demand expected to double by 2050.

IA: What are the biggest challenges currently facing palliative care in Australia, and how is your organisation addressing these?

Camilla: Like many parts of the health and care sectors – the workforce is our biggest challenge, simply having the people to deliver care.

Demand for palliative care is on track to increase by 50% before 2025 and double before 2050, having the doctors, nurses, social workers and others to deliver that care is critical for our ageing population and the quality of life we want for our loved ones and ourselves.

There is a range of training and education opportunities available to upskill the aged care and primary health workforce, Palliative Care Australia (PCA) has a role to play in promoting those opportunities through campaigns like National Palliative Care Week, but we are also talking to government about the hurdles that exist that stop nurses, doctors and other professions from doing this training – which comes back to not having enough people for backfill.

IA: How does Palliative Care Australia (PCA) engage and support diverse communities, including Australia’s First Nations communities?

Camilla: This is really important work. Palliative care is person-centred care, so being aware of someone’s cultural background and needs is an important first step in any conversation.

More and more we are seeing Aboriginal Health Workers become embedded in health services around the country but also there are a range of tools and educational opportunities that exist to support the delivery of culturally safe palliative care.

We know that when it’s done well, families and communities also have better grief and bereavement outcomes and are more likely to engage with health services in the future.

IA: How does PCA advocate for patients’ and families’ needs at a national policy level?

Camilla:  Our advice to the Government is fed by our membership network – their advice comes directly from the front line which is so valuable in shaping good policy and budget decisions.

PCA has a positive and constructive relationship with Minister Butler and Assistant Minister Kearney and their offices; we have been able to have a positive impact on their reform agenda to date, including recognising palliative care within the new Aged Care Act and look forward to deepening those reforms into the future.

IA: The recent federal budget failed to address options to extend palliative care at home for individuals receiving aged care services, especially those under the age of 65.  Given the desire of Australians to remain in their own home, what are your thoughts on this and what can we expect from PCA in this area?

Camilla: There was some good news in the recent Federal Budget, particularly the two-year extension of the Comprehensive Palliative Care in Aged Care (CPiAC) measure.”

CPiAC has achieved some early success when it comes to embedding palliative care within the aged care environment – developing models, links and pathways to specialist palliative care services for people and staff in residential aged care and helping to avoid unnecessary hospital transfers and admissions.

But the Under 65’s issue remains a concern.  It’s heartbreaking that the Budget did little to support the urgent needs of people under 65 with a life-limiting illness, who need basic care and support at home during their last months and weeks.

Considering that 70% of Australians say they would prefer to die at home, this is far from the patient-centred approach we all aspire to.

Federal, state and territory governments have acknowledged the gap that exists and have agreed something needs to be done. While aged care reforms are vital for people over 65 years, we are yet to see meaningful reform for people under 65 who can’t access the NDIS, but who still need support at home – it’s become a birthday lottery. 

These people simply can’t wait for governments to work out who should pay for basic care at home. We estimate there will be at least 3,000 people in this position this year – people who don’t have much time left.

The longer it takes to get a solution, the more people will die without getting the support they need – unless they pay for it out of their pocket. 

We have presented solutions and will keep working with the Government and pushing for better care for these people and their loved ones.

IA: Thank you

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