DOCTORS, health professionals and carers have challenged Queensland’s political leaders to commit to a massive spending boost for palliative care.
Ahead of the October 31 election, Palliative Care Queensland, the sector’s peak body, AMA Queensland and community groups from across the state have called for a more-than tripling of funding – from the current $110 million each year to $385 million – so that it is available to all.
“At present, access to palliative care for Queenslanders is a lottery based on where they live, their age, their illness, their culture and even the way their local hospital and health service allocates its funding,” PCQ said in an election pamphlet, describing palliative care as a human right.
The peak body’s chief executive officer Shyla Mills described palliative care as “a universal need, declared a human right”.
“Sadly, in Queensland, we have a sector in need of urgent reform, one that must have the capacity to meet the needs of all Queenslanders regardless of their age, diagnosis or gender so that care is not determined by a postcode lottery,” she said.
AMA Queensland president Dr Chris Perry said the palliative care sector received only about one per cent of the state’s health budget, “a figure that is starkly inadequate for a need that touches everyone in the state”.
“We can’t continue to standby in silence,” Dr Perry said.
Voluntary euthanasia is being driven as a grassroots election issue by pro-euthanasia groups and is being opposed by the Catholic Church and the right-to-life lobby.
Queensland’s six Catholic bishops last month released an election statement that said: “Access to palliative care for older Queenslanders receiving aged care, especially in regional and rural settings, is a critical area of need. This urgent need is highlighted at a time when there is pressure to legislate for euthanasia in the State parliament.”
Two major Catholic-aligned hospital and aged care operators in Queensland promised to quit the industry if legislation passed and they were forced to provide voluntary euthanasia (voluntary assisted dying – VAD).
Southern Cross Care, which runs 11 aged-care homes and five retirement villages, and the Mater Group with 10 Catholic hospitals have both expressed alarm about Queensland becoming the third state to introduce a VAD law.
Mater Group chairman Francis Sullivan said VAD would not be allowed in any of its hospitals.
“We are determined to provide comprehensive healthcare from cradle to the grave,” he said in an opinion column published in The Australian.
“We respect the process of life including the dying process but it is not in our mission to accelerate death and certainly not in our mission to directly intervene to cause death.”
Mr Sullivan said the general lack of understanding about the needs of the dying and access to services for them represented a significant gap in both the policy and the platform for debate.
“Good palliative medicine and clinical support services ease the suffering of most people at the end of life,” he said.
“It also removes any expedient threats to dying individuals who worry about being a burden to others or even a resource drain on the community.
“In many ways it brings out the best in medicine because it concentrates on all aspects of a person’s care, including their relational needs at such a precious time.”
Neither of the major parties have said what they would do with draft legislation that was being reviewed by the Queensland Law Reform Commission and could be introduced into the next parliament.
“As Queenslanders prepare to vote in the October 31 election, it seems fair to ask candidates which way they will go,” Mr Sullivan said.
Ms Mills said boosting the palliative care budget would, in simple terms, cost each Queenslander $53 a year, or the equivalent of one cup of coffee per person a month.
“A small investment to make to meet a universal need and address a human right,” she said.
Major proposal for new investment to create a purpose-built palliative care system in Queensland Palliative Care Queensland’s election pamphlet “Requirements for Requirements for New Investment in Palliative Care” can be downloaded here.