Palliative Care Australia CEO Dr Yvonne Luxford has highlighted the need for compulsory education to improve the knowledge of health professionals on advance care planning and palliative care as Australia marks National Palliative Care Week.
Dr Luxford said there was still significant confusion among health professionals about the meaning and legality of advance care plans which could compromise the quality of care received at the end of life.
She said she was aware of cases where an aged care resident had been denied hospital treatment for a treatable illness such as a urinary tract infection or a broken bone because hospital staff had misunderstood the meaning and purpose of an advance care plan.
She told Australian Ageing Agenda:
“The staff in this case thought the advance care plan meant no treatment as opposed to unnecessary aggressive curative treatment and the person was transferred back to the aged care facility without receiving any treatment.”
Harmonising state and territory legislation on advance care planning would also help promote consistent knowledge in this area, Dr Luxford said.
Coinciding with National Palliative Care Week, which runs 25 to 31 May, the PCA released a survey on Tuesday which found that only 5 per cent of Australians surveyed had made an advance care plan and only one third correctly understood the meaning of an advance care plan.
An historic resolution passed by the World Health Assembly last week also recommended embedding palliative care in the basic and continuing education and training for all health workers.
“This resolution provides us with a great opportunity to highlight the importance of the palliative care workforce, and in particular to focus on education – we must make care of the dying a mandatory education component for all health professionals,” said Dr Luxford.
Defining palliative care
Dr Luxford said it was also important for health professionals and the community to understand that palliative care did not mean terminal care.
“It is definitely not just about care at the end of life. It’s about care to improve a person’s quality of life and that care can start even from the point of diagnosis.”
She said aged care providers should focus on enhancing quality of life by developing an understanding of the residents’ values and what’s important to them through the advance care planning process.
Dr Luxford said advance care plans were also not often transported with the aged care resident to different parts of the health system, which created additional problems for the delivery of end of life care.
In an effort to improve the support available to aged care providers and GPs, a specialist palliative care and advance care planning advisory service, funded by the Australian Government as part of the Living Longer, Living Better reforms, is due to be launched in coming months.
Called Decision Assist, the project includes a national palliative care phone-based advice line, complemented by web-based resources and education and training for GPs and aged care staff.
About 60,000 people die each year in the care of residential and community aged care services.