Palliative care in the spotlight

Matters of life and death have been the focus of conversation recently as Australia recognises National Palliative Care Week.

Matters of life and death have been the focus of conversation recently as Australia recognises National Palliative Care Week.

Ahead of the occasion – which runs from 21 May to 27 May – peak body Palliative Care Australia released a video featuring the people at the heart of palliative care.

Camilla Rowland

“The vibrant video and social media campaign that is central to the week will also allow us to show our appreciation for the doctors, nurses, physios, social workers, occupational therapists, dietitians, volunteers and the many others who contribute to the person-centred team approach to palliative care,” said PCA chief executive officer Camilla Rowland.

Ms Rowland hopes their stories will reveal the positive impact of palliative care and prompt people to prepare for the inevitable. “I hope it provides a moment of reflection for all Australians to think about and plan for the last chapter of their life,” she said.

It is also hoped the campaign – #MattersOfLifeAndDeath – will inspire health professionals to enter the palliative care sector.

Among those featured in the video is registered nurse Nicola. “People say to me ‘How can you do that job? It must be really sad.’ I say, ‘I can’t change the fact that people are dying, but if I can make one hour, one day better for those people – what better job could you have?’”

Members of parliament also recognised the event by wearing commemorative lapel pins.

“It’s important to have a focus on palliative care.”

South Australian aged care and retirement village operator Resthaven was among the providers acknowledging the importance of palliative care this week. “It’s important to have a focus on palliative care,” said Resthaven specialist palliative care clinical nurse Karen Gregory.  

Karen Gregory

Palliative care is not just about the end of life, nor is it just the domain of doctors and nurses said Ms Gregory.

“Dying involves social, cultural, spiritual, and other aspects of a person’s life. With good palliative care, those facing death and bereavement are supported to live, die, and grieve well, and to accept death as a natural part of life.”

Residents and their families should be offered the opportunity to take part in end-of-life planning said Ms Gregory. “It is equally important to train our staff in recognising deterioration and palliative end-of-life care as this is an integral part of aged care.”

“Nurses make a significant impact to palliative care.”

Palliative Care Nurses Australia – an organisation that provides a unified voice for nurses who are passionate about palliative care – took the opportunity to pay tribute to its members.

“Palliative Care Nurses Australia wishes to acknowledge the difference all nurses make to #MattersOfLifeAndDeath in National Palliative Care Week 2023 and every week,” read a PCNA statement. “As the largest health workforce, nurses make a significant impact to palliative care and its leadership.”

To mark Palliative Care Week, PCNA announced a new scholarship to support emerging palliative care nurse leaders. “Never has it been a better time to invest in, grow and develop palliative care nurses and nursing whatever the setting,” – including residential aged care – added the statement.

PCNA also posted a vlog on social media in which member Claudia Virdun discussed this year’s theme.

Aged care pilot shows gains of high-quality end-of-life care

Meanwhile, a Flinders University pilot project has shown the benefits of improving end-of-life care in aged care.

The Comprehensive Palliative Care in Aged Care Measure – a Commonwealth-funded initiative aiming to improve access to quality palliative and end-of-life care for aged care residents – was adopted in seven not-for-profit Eldercare sites in metropolitan Adelaide and 15 publicly-funded aged care homes in regional South Australia.

The palliative care models adopted included:

  • palliative care needs rounds
  • workforce education and training
  • traineeships
  • specialist palliative care in-reach support
  • grief and bereavement support for families.

The pilot’s evaluation – conducted by Professor Jennifer Tieman and Dr Sara Javanparast on behalf of SA Heath – demonstrated any future initiative will require active involvement from the aged care industry to “make it work”.

“We know that aged care is a complex setting facing many challenges including workforce shortages,” said Dr Javanparast from the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. “Any new initiative requires strong engagement with the sector to ensure they are aware of the value that the project can add to them, their facilities and to residents.”

Jennifer Tieman

New initiatives will also require workforce education and training said Professor Tieman. “Our evaluation has shown the importance and effectiveness of palliative care training and mentoring to improve identification and management of palliative care needs. Staff shared how much they appreciated the education sessions and saw palliative care as an area of nursing that needs to be done well.”

Due to a high turnover of staff, “continued training, refresher courses and on-the-job mentoring are critical,” added Professor Tieman.

The pilot’s review emphasised that equitable access to specialist palliative care experts – including nurses and medical practitioners – is crucial in ensuring all Australians living in residential aged care benefit from high-quality palliative care.

However, said Professor Tieman: “This requires broader policy commitment and investment.”

Main image: A Resthaven palliative care training session

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Tags: dr sara javanparast, palliative care australia, palliative care week, Professor Jennifer Tieman, resthaven,

1 thought on “Palliative care in the spotlight

  1. It is of great concern that not everyone in residential care has equal access to palliative care due to staffing shortages. It is a scary time, a scary thought that a frail person at the end of their life might have to go It alone without the support they need. Why would someone want to enter residential care knowing that palliative care would, in all probabiliity, not be accessible for them? This is an urgent matter that needs to be addressed now if we are a decent caring society.

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