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Use of palliative care medicine services increase by 80%

31 May, 2016

Over the past 5 years, Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) payments for all palliative medicine specialist services increased by almost 80%.

In 2014-15, 13,000 patients received an MBS-subsidised palliative medicine specialist service, with around 71,500 of these services provided nationally at a cost of $5.3 million paid in benefits, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Palliative care services in Australia 2016, shows that palliative care hospitalisations increased by 11% from 55,983 in 2009-10 to 62,164 in 2013-14, but accounted for less than 1 in 100 of all hospitalisations for both public and private hospitals in 2013-14.

'As the Australian population grows and people live longer, the demand for palliative care services will increase,' said AIHW Spokesperson Mr Tim Beard.

'These services provide relief from pain and other distressing symptoms for people who are dying. Such services are in increasing demand as patterns of disease at the end of life change. An increasing proportion of Australians are suffering from chronic illnesses, and people are therefore more likely to die from chronic illnesses and make use of palliative care services'.

The most common principal diagnosis for palliative care hospitalisations was cancer (53%), which accounted for 1 in 25 (4%) of all cancer-related hospitalisations.

Palliative care-related hospitalisations also accounted for nearly one-third (30%) of all hospitalisations with a principal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, followed by lung cancer (29%) and liver cancer (20%).

Patients aged 75 years and over accounted for about half (51%) of all palliative care hospitalisations, while 1 in 9 (11%) were patients aged under 55 years. The average age of patients was 73, with males and females being equally represented across palliative care hospitalisations.

Of admitted hospital patients who died in hospital, more than 2 in 5 (44%) had been a palliative care patient during their final hospitalisation period.

The report also found that the majority of the palliative care workforce was comprised of palliative care nurses. A total of 3,269 palliative care nurses worked in the sector in 2014, along with 192 specialist palliative care physicians.

In 2013-14, 1 in 6 (17%) of the 728 public acute hospitals (excluding public psychiatric hospitals) had a hospice care unit, while 1 in 12 (8%) of the 286 private acute and psychiatric hospitals had hospice units.

'The next update for Palliative care services in Australia will be released later this year and will include palliative care data on residential aged care, general practice activity, prescription medications (PBS), and palliative care outcomes,' said Mr Beard.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

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