A grassroots campaign of care professionals and services is pushing to embed community-based palliative care in Australia to provide more inclusive end-of-life care – and they say aged care providers have a key role to play.

With Australia’s ageing population, increasing pressure on health and aged care budgets and mounting rates of social isolation in the community, they say a new approach to end-of-life care is needed.

The “compassionate communities” movement aims to promote and integrate social approaches to dying, death and bereavement by building community capacity around end-of-life care and support.

The group is preparing to hold its inaugural symposium later this month to bring together government, community groups and health professionals to spearhead the movement locally.

Not only does the model provide for more inclusive and person-centered palliative care, the experience in Europe has shown it also reduces unnecessary and costly hospital treatment.

As Australian Ageing Agenda reported last year, a community-based palliative care program in Spain found that for every euro invested, five to six euro was saved in alternative more intensive acute and emergency hospital care (read that story here).

Dr Bruce Rumbold, director of the palliative care unit at La Trobe University and a founding member of the network in Australia, said the approach looked at identifying and nurturing the relationships, networks and policies that promote inclusion within end-of-life care and services.

“It might also mean you look at changing regulations or the way services are being offered and from there you start to raise policy questions about how we make end-of-life concerns and issues explicit within practice and government policy,” Dr Rumbold told AAA this week.

For instance, Dr Rumbold’s team at La Trobe has recently been funded to work with local government positive ageing networks to assist them to ask questions about “healthy dying” in addition to their work promoting wellness and reablement.

“It’s really an attempt to get some grassroots conversations and activities going that enhance community capacity, but also raise questions around what changes are needed to service delivery and policy,” said Dr Rumbold, who is speaking at the Compassionate Communities Symposium this month.

Dr Rumbold said that aged care providers and professionals had a key role to play in supporting the compassionate communities approach in Australia – starting with helping to encourage “sensible conversations” about death.

“One of the first things they can do is help people realise that talking about dying does not mean giving up on life,” he said.

“We have decided at a social level that dying is something healthcare should handle, and my argument is that, in actual fact, dying should be handled as community issue and healthcare is then told what the community wants and expects, in terms of support,” Dr Rumbold said.

The Compassionate Communities Symposium takes place from 20-21 February at the International Convention Centre, Sydney.

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