Triumph for palliative care at home

It was a case of power to the people when residents of northern Sydney took on the State Government for crucial palliative care services

Above: Palliative care services restored to northern Sydney.  L to R: Registered Nurse, Sue Hall, BO’F, John Gibson with wife, Dr Christine Weir, of Wahroonga

By Keryn Curtis

NSW health and aged care provider, HammondCare has had a welcome win with the NSW government with the recent restoration of much needed funding for its community palliative care services in northern Sydney.

Following a two year battle, the NSW Premier and Member for the northern Sydney electorate of Ku-ring-gai, the Hon Barry O’Farrell, announced the decision in Parliament on 10 August to restore over a million dollars taken away from these services as part of cost-saving measures in 2009.

HammondCare provides palliative care services across the lower and upper North Shore of Sydney and the Northern Beaches through a network that includes Greenwich Hospital, the Northern Beaches Palliative Care Service and the newly refurbished and reopened Neringah Hospital.

General Manager of Health and Hospitals for HammondCare, Stewart James, said the funding cuts had not made sense at the time but the decision to restore the funding was extremely welcome and meant that HammondCare could now provide improved services for the care and support of people who wish to spend the last days of their life at home.

“It seemed a silly decision because COAG [Council of Australian Governments] was, at the time, seeking to find enhancement funding for community palliative care because they recognised that it took some of the pressure off acute hospitals.

“There was a fight between HammondCare and the area health service for two years. A retired palliative care specialist doctor in the area, Yvonne McMaster, who volunteers at the San [Sydney Adventist Hospital] started asking questions when she was told it was more difficult to get people into the Neringah Hospital service.  She started to unravel the story and became a passionate advocate,” said Mr James.

“She lobbied Barry O’Farrell, who is the local member, and he said if you can get 10,000 signatures I will debate it in Parliament.  She got 23,000 signatures!”

“On the day of debate, the Premier, the Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, and the Member for Pittwater, Bob Stokes, all made speeches praising the important role HammondCare played and the mistake that was made in taking the funding away. The Parliament voted in favour of restoring the funding.  That was the 10th of August,” Mr James said.

Mr James said the funding had been indexed for 2010-2012 and HammondCare was now in the process of recruiting additional doctors, nurses and allied health professionals to visit people in their homes.

“It shows how powerful communities can be.  We weren’t getting very far ourselves but when communities rise up and are passionate about an issue, the politicians listen.”

Upgrade for services

L to R: HammondCare Chairman, Rod Mewing, NSW Premier, the Hon Barry O’Farrell and CEO of HammondCare, Dr Stephen Judd

A week after the announcement, the NSW Premier was on hand to officially open the $1.6 million upgrade of HammondCare’s Neringah Hospital at Wahroonga.

The hospital provides palliative care through an integrated in-patient and community palliative care service and forms a key part of HammondCare’s palliative care services for the northern Sydney area.

According to HammondCare the service offers assistance to help patients to live as comfortably as possible as the end of their life approaches, maintaining dignity and at the same time supporting families and carers during and after the illness. Depending on individual requirements, care is provided either in a person’s home or as an in-patient.

The renovation of Neringah Hospital increases the number of beds from 15 to 19. Thirteen are single and three are double rooms, all with en suite bathrooms. There is also a new clinic and reception area as well as upgraded facilities for relatives.

HammondCare CEO, Dr Stephen Judd, said that Neringah’s ageing amenities had been upgraded to meet the organisation’s high standards of care.

“This refurbishment incorporates the latest designs to make patients reaching the end of their lives and their families as comfortable as possible.”

Dr Judd said Neringah will also form an important part of the Palliative and Supportive Care research and academic unit being developed at Greenwich Hospital.

“HammondCare now has 64 palliative in-patient beds, as well as day hospitals, outpatient clinics and community palliative care ‘at home’ services across metropolitan Sydney,” he said.

Dr Judd paid tribute to the group, Friends of Neringah, which he said has raised funds for the hospital and provided invaluable support over many years.

He said HammondCare was thankful for the Premier’s decision to restore community palliative care funding and appreciates the special interest the Health Minister, the Hon Jillian Skinner, has shown in palliative care development across New South Wales.

He also recognised the work of Dr Yvonne McMaster and her significant involvement in fostering awareness of the importance of palliative care at home.

Tags: barry-ofarrell, bob-stokes, dr-stephen-judd, greenwich-hospital, hammondcare, jillian-skinner, minister-for-health, neringah-hospital, nsw-government, nsw-premier, palliative care, stuart-james, sydney-adventist-hospital, the-san, yvonne-mcmaster,

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