Calls for change to end-of-life care

25 November, 2013

Current practices in end-of-life medical care require major change to ensure more Australians experience 'better' deaths, according to a panel of medical, ethical and legal experts in a new white paper.

The panel recently issued the comprehensive discussion paper "Best Practice in end-of-life Care" and blueprint for change following robust debate at a one-day forum jointly sponsored by the Schools of Population Health at the University of Melbourne and Monash University and the Australian Centre for Health Research earlier in the year.

The meeting identified the need for improvement in end-of-life care and the associated barriers and drivers for change.

Professor Peter Brooks from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne said the discussion paper provides a template for best practice in an increasingly important area of health care — helping families with dying.

"We know many Australians do not get their choice of where they die; they want to die at home with their families and yet we don't let them," Professor Peter Brooks said.

"This is about patient choice, something we need to embrace much more widely in health care.

"We need to encourage health professionals at all levels to start this conversation about end-of-life choices with patients — they are usually very receptive and want to talk."

More than 52 per cent of Australians now die in hospital, despite the fact that most would prefer to die at home. In 2011, more than 146,000 people died in hospital in Australia. 

"We need to put caring back into health care," Professor Brooks said.

"It is not just about treatment at all costs, it's about making patients comfortable. Remember: cure sometimes, treat often, but care always."

The major focus for change recommended was education, with other key issues discussed including clinical behaviour, clinical leadership, practitioner confidence, and discussion around hospital procedures.

It is hoped the report will engage the new federal government and all state governments to look at consistency of legislation and practice around the country to achieve the panel's stated desired outcomes for change and sustainable improvement.