Palliative care in focus at UnitingCare Health Q&A

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Brisbane doctors get opportunity to explore often-ignored issue of palliative care at a lively Q&A forum

Brisbane doctors were given the opportunity to examine the often-ignored issue of palliative care at a lively Q&A forum moderated by ABC TV’s Tony Jones and hosted by The Wesley Hospital and St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital.

More than 100 GPs and medical specialists explored the sensitive ethical and medical questions involved in treating the terminally ill, at the UnitingCare Health event held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre in May.

The panel of experts discussed questions such as access to palliative care services and whether palliative care is a human right. Other issues raised included the viability of running a private palliative care service, advanced care directives and euthanasia.

Dr Luis Prado, chief medical officer for UnitingCare Health and director of medical services at The Wesley Hospital, said caring for the dying needed more discussion. “Almost daily, we hear about innovative ways of diagnosing and treating life threatening diseases like cancer. At the one end of the spectrum there is all this innovation, and money for research into finding cures, but there is a vacuum of interest in palliative care,” he said.

“There is a lack of understanding of the role of palliative medicine in the wider community as well as the medical community,” Dr Prado said. He said some clinicians viewed referring patients to palliative care as a failure on their part, when in fact involving the palliative care team earlier was better for patients and their families. “This is why The Wesley Hospital, which is a leading provider of oncology services, has a Palliative Care Service and places a great deal of emphasis on this care.”

Dr Ralph McConaghy, director of The Wesley Hospital Palliative Care Service, said one of the major dilemmas for doctors was the right time to refer patients to palliative care, saying this should not be left too late. “Palliative care is about furnishing a life worth living, rather than just providing end of life care. Engendering hope is within the capacity of every clinician,” Dr McConaghy said.

Dr Christian Rowan, deputy chief medical officer for UnitingCare Health and director of medical services at St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital, chaired the Q&A expert panel. Dr Rowan said he encouraged the discussion of this important subject with GPs and specialists: “The benefits of multidisciplinary care, the spiritual needs of patients and pain management are all important facets of palliative care.”

Wesley Business Development Manager Vicki Goss said this was the second annual Q&A event with Tony Jones, part of an innovative education program for general practitioners and medical specialists. “After the event Tony Jones said he would like to do a TV show on the topic for a national audience. It’s exciting to think we came up with a topic that he wants to run with,’’ Ms Goss said

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