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Boosting at-home palliative care services could save Australia $450 million, new report shows

Speaking out: Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the report showed “that there was more to palliative care than meets the eye”.

A NEW report calls for an overhaul of the palliative care system in Australia, revealing it could save $450 million by boosting funding for at-home end-of-life services.

Seen in the light of Australia’s end-of-life debate, the KPMG report bolsters the Catholic Church case that state governments should fix the existing health system, not consider legislation to allow voluntary assisted dying.

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the report showed “that there was more to palliative care than meets the eye”.

“It’s not just about managing pain, nor is it just about spending a lot of money,” he said.

“Comprehensive palliative care sees beyond the pain to the whole person and makes good economic sense. That’s why it has to be the right option”.

The Queensland Government is now looking for ways to boost palliative care services, and the KPMG report puts a strong economic case for making it available as an essential part of the health system.

“As we prepare for an ageing population and other unexpected stresses to our health care system, like COVID-19, we must look seriously at reforming our system to ensure it can meet people’s needs into the future,” Palliative Care Australia chair Professor Meera Agar said.

“Palliative care is about quality of life, living well with a palliative diagnosis, and about dying well.

“Through an additional annual investment of $365 million on national reform, we can save up to $464 million in other health system costs while making the system work best for those experiencing it.

“We have to spend money to save money and that’s backed by leading economists.”

The KPMG report suggested annual investments should be made in three areas: $240m into improving timely access to at-home palliative care, $75m into specialist palliative services within aged-care facilities, and $50m to expand end-of-life services in hospitals.

“Significant savings were made in the first two (areas), while at home the financial outcome was neutral, but in all cases the health outcomes were better. Considerable hospitalisation time – up to 12 days a month – can be prevented by earlier use of palliative care,” Dr Chris Schilling, KPMG health economist and report author, said.

The report also calls for a national agreement on palliative care between the Commonwealth and the states and territories, and a new full-time Palliative Care Commissioner, to help create the best experience possible for those with life-limiting conditions and those around them.

There is currently little co-ordination between state, federal and local stakeholders and palliative care providers, the report said.

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