A GROUP of specialist Queensland doctors claim many terminally ill patients are dying before they receive access to palliative care.
The claim was made in a submission to the Queensland Government inquiry into the adequacy of aged care, end-of-life and palliative care, and whether there was support for state laws to allow voluntary assisted suicide.
“Patients … at any time of the day or night regardless of geographic location need to be able to access this care with the least amount of additional burden, especially the burden of navigating our complex health system,” the Queensland Specialist Palliative Care Services Directors’ Group said.
“There are regional, rural and remote communities with no direct access to specialist palliative care.”
In their submission, 18 specialist physicians, chaired by Dr Greg Parker, urged the state government to provide palliative care services across Queensland, operating in all hospitals and health service districts, and with clinical on-call backup.
In addition, they claimed patients and their families were struggling to negotiate the complexities in arranging care through the National Disability Insurance Scheme, My Aged Care and Queensland Community Care, resulting in “unacceptable delays in provision of care, or in some instances no care at all”.
“Many patients die before their package is approved,” the doctors’ group said.
“It has been six years since the most recent inquiry into palliative care in Queensland. Little has changed.”
Overall, the doctors described palliative care services available to Queenslanders as “dictated by obsolete and disparate funding models”, lacking in engagement with government and expert policy-makers.
This is in addition to a “lack of a state-wide approach” and an “inadequate current specialist workforce”.
The doctors’ submission detailed a “postcode lottery” that determined what home equipment dying people could access, depending on which hospital and health service they fell under.
The doctors also said patients typically could not arrange urgent palliative care visits outside business hours, forcing them into hospital emergency departments.
“Palliative care has not been given the recognition as an area of service in which it is essential to provide 24/7 care,” the doctors said.
The doctors also raised questions about the transparency and handling of the end-of-life-care debate in Queensland, claiming key reports had not been publicly released.
“There have been several palliative care reviews and scoping studies (funded by the State Government) over the last 10 years seeking to understand palliative care service provision in Queensland and to look at planning for the future,” the doctors said.
“These are potentially important pieces of work, yet they have not been made publicly available.
“Such information is important for us all to understand past, current and future palliative care needs, and we think they should all be made publicly available.”
The inquiry is due to report back to the Government by the end of November.