By Yasmin Noone

The Australian Senate’s Community Affairs References Committee has received only 16 written submissions to its broadest inquiry into palliative care  ever, despite the fact that it first called for public comments late last year and there are only 10 more days before the submission deadline passes.

Palliative Care Australia has called upon individuals and organisations operating in this space to fulfil their health care responsibilities, stand up for their profession and patients, and tell the Senate what it is really like to work with the dying in Australia.

President of Palliative Care Australia, Dr Scott Blackwell, has urged everyone with an interest in palliative care and a passion for improving people’s quality of life – even at the end of life – to submit their personal stories and suggestions about how the system could work better.

But Senate submissions must be lodged soon as the deadline for the receipt of all written submissions is Friday 23 March.

“Interested parties working at the coal face of palliative care are often so busy doing good work that they forget about their responsibility to impact upon [political palliative care decisions],” Dr Blackwell said.

“But this is their opportunity to let people at the highest level of politics in their country, know what it’s like to work at the coalface of palliative care and to tell them what they need.

“This inquiry, now, is our opportunity to be heard.”

The Senate Palliative Care in Australia inquiry, announced late last year, will aim to investigate how Australia’s palliative care system can be improved to better cope with the changing demands placed upon it.

The inquiry boasts eight terms of reference which submissions should address. However, Dr Blackwell stressed, submissions “don’t have to be complicated”.

“Submissions can be written using simple ordinary terms that everyone can understand.

“Tell them how it is and what you need. That’s the type of thing a politician will react to.”

The terms of reference cover the factors influencing access to and choice of appropriate palliative care that meets the needs of the population; the funding arrangements for the provision of palliative care, including the manner in which sub-acute funding is provided and spent; the adequacy of standards that apply to the provision of palliative care and the application of the Standards for Providing Quality Care to All Australians; and  avenues for individuals and carers to communicate with health care professionals about end-of-life care.

The committee will also investigate the “efficient use of palliative, health and aged care resources” and look at the cross over between the aged and palliative care sectors.

According to Dr Blackwell, the palliative care inquiry and political promise for aged care reform will feed into other, generating an atmosphere of change and an improved health care system.

“The natural synchrony of the two subjects in this inquiry – aged and palliative care – is important,” he said. 

“…Not only is aged care everyone’s business but palliative care is everyone’s business. It is an important part of the health agenda going forward.”

The Productivity Commission’s Caring for Older Australians report, released last year, “saw palliative care as a central and integral part of aged care”.

The inquiry, announced late last year, will be chaired by Australian Greens spokesperson for health and ageing, Senator Rachel Siewart.

The Senate’s expected reporting date is 12 September 2012.

“…We’ve worked very hard to get the politicians to take notice of palliative care for some time now,” he said.

“So [now that we have this opportunity], it’s really essential to get the message across to politicians as to how important palliative care is.

“This is our opportunity. It would be very disappointing if we don’t take a hold of it right now.”

Notes to help parties prepare their submission are available from the website at http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/wit_sub/index.htm

For more information about how to supply a submission, click here.

For background information on the inquiry, click here.
 

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