Above: Screenshot of the ‘More funds for pallative care’ campaign website
By Yasmin Noone
More than 26,000 NSW-residents, from country towns and metropolitan areas alike, have put their names to a petition rallying the state government to up palliative care funding by $50 million in the 2012/13 budget.
The state-wide petition and campaign by the same name, More funds for palliative care, aims to draw attention to “gross deficiencies’ in the availability of palliative care for adults and children.
The campaign calls for greater funding to train a sufficient number of palliative care workers (nursing, medical and allied health) to service existing and future palliative care needs.
“…The June 2012 State Budget only allocated $5M to palliative care,” the campaign website reads.
“Due in part to our ageing population, the demand for palliative care services is increasing.
“Over the 10-year period from 1999 to 2009 the number of admissions for palliative care in Australian hospitals increased by 56 per cent.
“Yet state funding has not increased since 2007 until the tiny $5 million boost this year.
“We need more than ten times this to adequately care for palliative care needs of the people of NSW.
“…Last year’s campaign collected 24,000 signatures; imagine what we can do in 2012!”
The 2012 campaign petition asks the NSW Legislative Assembly to provide for sufficient palliative care services to “meet the existing and anticipated future demands for such services in all areas of the state and in all types of institutions or other places where such services are required”.
More funds for palliative care follows on from the independent groups’ 24,000-signature strong campaign in 2011, which successfully convinced the state government to reinstate funds for palliative care in the Northern Sydney Local Health District.
Behind the campaign website
The woman behind the campaign is Dr Yvonne McMaster, who worked as a NSW-based palliative care doctor for more than 20 years.
She said she aims to get 100 000 signatures but would also be happy with 50 000 – one for each million dollars of funding the campaign requests the state government contribute to quality palliative care service provision: “It’s a very serious campaign”.
Dr McMasters agreed that the figure requested – $50 million – “is a lot” and admits “the state government is strapped for cash”.
“But the thing with funding palliative care is that it can save a lot of money spent on acute care and hospitals.
“If palliative care services are funded, we allow staff to go into nursing homes, advise them how to enable residents to die in place and keep people comfortable while they are living.
“…So we are currently doing a business case to show how much money can be saved by funding community palliative care.”
Dr McMasters aims to present the petition to the NSW Government before state parliament starts budget discussions next month and meet with the state Treasurer, Mike Baird, about he matter.
“We can’t go on as a civilized society, treating people in the way they are being treated.
“We really have to provide better palliative care.”
A groundswell of support
Campaigners have spent recent weeks and months collecting signatures for the petition from empathetic supporters all over the state, including those working in hospitals, GP clinics, palliative care centres and aged care facilities; and passers-by on busy city streets in local chemists and even suburban grocery stores.
The Leukaemia Foundation, the Groundswell project, Aged Care Crisis, the United Hospital Auxiliaries of New South Wales, Combined Pensioners and Superannuants of NSW, and the Cancer Council have also thrown their weight behind the campaign, as have the Country Women’s Association and various Lions Clubs groups.
“It’s just amazing how people have been getting involved in the campaign.
“I initially wrote to the CWA head office but never got a letter back. Then suddenly these petitions came in from the most outback little towns. There are hundreds of branches of CWA so they obviously emailed hundreds of them.
“…We’ve got one woman who has [independently] gotten 2000 signatures, just by going up and down the [suburbs along the Sydney] train line, telling people about palliative care and seeing if they will support the campaign.
“…There’s an elderly woman, whose husband died (she’s from Wagga Wagga), who has been tireless in getting signatures.
“And we’ve got one man who is 87, who goes around on his walking frame in cafes collecting signatures.”
The overwhelming support for the cause, she said, “is just beautiful”.
The petition currently has 26,008 signatures but the online tally, shown on the campaign’s wordpress.com site, keeps increasing day-by-day.
The campaign is especially gathering interest, she said, wherever older people are.
“By the time you get old, you start to realise that life doesn’t go on forever and at the end of your life, you will want to get some help.
“So older people are really getting activated.
Dr McMasters believes the campaign, to-date, has been successful and will be successful in pushing palliative care funding over the line in the 2012/13 NSW Budget.
The reasons, she said, are simple.
“Palliative care staff don’t get into palliative care because they want to …make money. They are there because they really want to be close to people, and walk with them [on their end-of-life journey].
“So this campaign is supported by the wives, children and friends of the people who have died.
“The other thing is that people appreciate palliative care and know it is not available everywhere. So they feel a commitment to try and improve things.
“And they have seen that we were successful with our campaign last year….”
Petition signatures will continue to be collected for a few more weeks.
“In life, we see a lot of things that are wrong and we think how can we fix this? This [campaign] is that ‘something’ that we can do to fix this problem.
“If we have enough signatures from the whole community that will show the government that the community really cares.
“It will change their minds and help them to justify expenditure on palliative care, especially when they have to be careful with their spending their money in other areas.”
Click here to visit the More funds for palliative care website