Senate announces palliative care inquiry

The Senate has launched the first ever full-scale inquiry into Australia’s palliative care system. With broad terms of reference now set, PCA expects that no stone will be left unturned.

By Yasmin Noone

Australia’s palliative care system will be the subject of a new, full-scale Senate inquiry, which boasts broad terms of reference spanning all facets of service provision, from the factors influencing access and choice to funding and the system’s interface with the aged care sector.

The inquiry, announced last week, will be conducted by the Senate’s Community Affairs References Committee and chaired by Australian Greens spokesperson for health and ageing, Senator Rachel Siewart.

The terms of reference point to eight factors the committee will review and cover the efficient use of palliative, health and aged care resources; the effectiveness of various palliative care arrangements; the composition of the palliative care workforce; the adequacy of standards applying to palliative care provision; and the availability and funding of research, information and data about palliative care in Australia.

Matters surrounding advance care planning will also be addressed, like end-of-life communication conversations between health care professionals and dying patients; national consistency in law and policy supporting advance care directives; and scope for including advance care plans in personal electronic health records.

Never before has the Senate launched such a broad ranging inquiry into the entire Australian palliative care system.

CEO of Palliative Care Australia, Dr Yvonne Luxford, welcomed the inquiry, which she believes is “long overdue”.

“One of the most important aspects of the inquiry is the issue of access to palliative care,” Dr Luxford said.

“…I hope the [inquiry will provide] some guidance for governments – federal, state and territory – around issues to do with access to palliative care.”

The broad scope of inquiry means the committee will also examine and make recommendations on the system’s ability to serve the needs of those in rural and regional areas; Indigenous people; individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; people with disabilities, and children and adolescents.

“I am happy with the scope of the terms of reference,” she said.

“Sometimes broad terms of reference can be problematic but there are just so any aspects around the provision of palliative care which need to be addressed that it’s great to have such broad terms of reference.

“The Productivity Commission, for its Caring for Older Australians inquiry, had really broad terms of reference and it came up with a fantastic report. So we expect the Senate to do the same.

“…I would expect the outcome of the Senate inquiry to fairly mirror the claims of the Productivity Commission, which states that palliative care is the core business of aged care. We know that’s true and we need to ensure that also comes out of the inquiry. Perhaps the Senate inquiry report will provide some guidance towards achieving that [integration with aged care]?”

The committee is expected to produce an inquiry report by September 12, 2012.

Dr Luxford said the timing of the inquiry couldn’t be more perfect, with budget 2012 being touted as the ‘the aged care budget’. Once released in May 2012, she said, the budget could impact – in the sector’s favour – upon the committee’s final report.

“That could be a potential and early win [for palliative care].”

Pleased with the political attention palliative care is now receiving, Dr Luxford is hopeful that change is around the corner.

“…It’s interesting. There’s been a lot of discussion in the Senate in past 12 months in regards to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into aged care. It’s coming to people’s attention.

“Perhaps it has something to do with an ageing population and an [increasing] consciousness around [the country’s ability to meet the needs] of the ageing population? Perhaps it is also due to the voluntary euthanasia legislation that is in different parliaments around the country?

“All these things make people think about the need for better access to palliative care.”

Written submissions from interested individuals and organisations are currently being sought and must be received by the committee by March 2, 2012.

“One of the things we really hope for, given how broad the terms of reference are, is an incredibly wide variety of submissions to the inquiry – not only from older Australians but from people working in aged care.

“It would be fantastic if all the aged care workers were to put in submissions.

“This is your opportunity to make a change.”

Click here to read the terms of reference of the inquiry. To find out more information, click here.

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2 thoughts on “Senate announces palliative care inquiry

  1. I have only just become aware of this inquiry and that submissions close today.
    I would like to say that city people are able to benefit more form the services usually provided but country people have much less support. In particular the services offerred in some country areas cease when personnel are on leave so clients may go many weeks without a substitute person.This is even harder for remote areas and many indigenous communities.I have personal experience in both situations as a carer.
    Telephone support services and other technology could help fill some gaps.I could submit more if there is an extension for submissions.

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