New report paints a picture of palliative care in Australia

  24 May 2023  NWMPHN   

People with cancer comprise the largest category of people admitted to hospital for palliative care, according to a new report published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The Institute, which is funded by the Australian Government, compiled and analysed data for 2020-21.

The figures show that during the year 90,700 people were admitted for palliative care in public and private hospitals across the country – with the public system taking in the vast majority.

Of the people admitted, 42 per cent, or roughly 2 in 5, had cancer. The second most common cause was a group of conditions that affect blood flow and the blood vessels in the brain, collectively known as cerebrovascular disease, followed by septicaemia, or blood poisoning.

Men accounted for 53 per cent of palliative care admissions – which is the opposite of figures describing total admissions to hospital, for which women make up the largest proportion. (Figures for transgender and non-binary people aren’t in the report.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, most palliative care patients were older people. Indeed, 56 per cent were at least 74 years old. Only 9 per cent were under 55.

Public hospital-based palliative care is used more than twice as often by people from lower socioeconomic areas than wealthier ones. The reverse was true for private hospitals. In addition, people living in regional areas were more likely than city-dwellers to be admitted for end-of-life care.

2,400 admissions were for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – with 95 per cent occurring in public hospitals.

Of all people admitted for palliative care, just over half died while in there. The rest were able to spend their final days in other places, such as their own homes.

The AIHW report revealed that the number of palliative care hospitalisations is rising steeply – with a 23 per cent increase between 2015-16 and 2020-21. Despite this, however, only 17 per cent of public hospitals have specialist palliative care units.

In the public system, the cost of palliative care inpatient services in 2020-21 was just over $480 million – accounting for just 1.1 per cent of total hospital costs.

The North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network (NWMPHN) catchment area recorded the second highest number of palliative care hospitalisations in Australia.

Reflecting this need, NWMPHN has created a unique website, Precious Time, for people with an end-of-life diagnosis, their families, friends and carers.

The award-winning website contains information and advice on how subjects such as how to deal with grief, how to talk about end-of-life issues, and how to make sure your wishes are respected. It also hosts a growing collection of end-of-life-related organisations, businesses and counsellors based in Melbourne’s CBD and its western and northern suburbs.

The website can be found here.

You can watch a short film about Precious Time here.