Challenging perceptions of palliative care

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Many Australians with life-limiting or terminal illness miss out on proper care because they are reluctant to talk about death or dying, according to a new report.

A national community survey by Palliative Care Australia (PCA) estimates that in addition to the 40,000 people receiving palliative care, the same number could also benefit from such treatment. 

Dr Larry Liew of Perth’s Glengarry Private Hospital said palliative care was an important part of clinical practice, but was often overlooked in the community.

“Palliative care is not just end-of-life care, it can be for anyone of any age,” he said. 

The PCA survey, released during Palliative Care Week 2021 at the end of May, found that fewer than four out of 10 Australians (39 percent) knew palliative care could be requested when a person was first diagnosed with a terminal, chronic or degenerative illness.

Only three out of 10 understood that general practitioners could help provide palliative care.

While almost 90 percent agreed people should plan for end-of-life scenarios, half of respondents had not done anything – finding the subject of death too difficult to talk about and not wanting to upset their family.

The theme of Palliative Care Week was ‘It’s more than you think’ – challenging perceptions that palliative care is a last resort, and encouraging people to engage with health professionals early in their diagnosis so they can live as well as possible for as long as possible. 

Dr Liew said there was a real concern that many people were not accessing timely palliative care. 

He said it was important for them to discuss their end-of-life wishes and preferences with their loved ones.  

“Palliative care helps people living with life-limiting or terminal illness by managing their pain and symptoms,” he added. 

The hospital celebrated Palliative Care Week by treating the staff at its Sandalwood inpatient unit to cake and afternoon tea as recognition for the valuable contribution they make through dedicated compassionate care. 

Their roles involve supporting the physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs of people of all ages living with life-limiting or terminal illness. 

For more information, visit the Glengarry Private Hospital website. 

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Read more: Palliative care – a compassionate approach to end-of-life care

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