Australians' use of palliative care doubled over last decade

29 September, 2015

A new web report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows that palliative care-related hospitalisations have risen by over 50 per cent in the last decade.

Palliative care aims to improve the quality of life of patients and their families facing a life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering.

The report, Palliative care services in Australia 2015, shows that there were almost 62,000 palliative care hospitalisations in 2012-13. This was an increase of 52 per cent since 2003-04, when there were 40,435 hospitalisations.

'Contributing to this increase are the changing patterns of disease we see towards the end of people's lives-the increasing prevalence of chronic illnesses, which people are more likely to die from, is leading to greater use of palliative care services,' said AIHW spokesperson Geoff Neideck.  

In addition, the growth and ageing of the Australian population is increasing demand for palliative care services.

'As we would expect, palliative care services are accessed more frequently by older people-people aged 75 years and over accounted for just over half of all palliative care hospitalisations,' Neideck said.

About ten per cent of palliative care hospitalisations were for people aged under 55 years.

The report also shows that over half (56 per cent) of palliative care hospitalisations were for patients with cancer. For certain types of cancer, palliative care played a particularly prominent role in patients' hospital care.

'For example, almost one-third of all hospitalisations related to pancreatic cancer were palliative care-related,' Neideck said.

An important element of palliative care is prescription medication.

'At the core of palliative care is the aim to provide relief from pain and other distressing symptoms, and medication can be central to this,' Neideck said.

Nationally, there were more than 51,200 palliative care-related prescriptions provided to almost 25,900 patients in 2013-14. Of these patients, 87 per cent received Australian Government subsidised prescription medications, reflecting a 13 per cent average annual increase over the preceding five years.

Laxatives were the palliative care-related prescription most often dispensed, followed by analgesics and anti-epileptics.