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There has been a substantial increase in recent years in the number of admissions for palliative care in Australian hospitals, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Trends in palliative care in Australian hospitals, shows that over the 10-year period from 1999-2000 to 2008-09, the number of palliative care admissions rose by 56%.

‘There were more than 50,000 palliative care admissions in Australian hospitals in 2008-09,’ said AIHW spokesperson Mr Brent Diverty.

Palliative care is care in which the clinical intent or treatment goal is primarily quality of life for a patient with an active, progressive disease with little or no prospect of cure.

This care may have been delivered in a hospice affiliated with a hospital, a dedicated palliative care ward or in other admitted patient beds in a hospital.

The average length of stay in hospital for palliative care admissions was 12.5 days per admission—almost four times longer than the average 3.2 days spent in hospital for all admissions.

Patients aged 75 years and over accounted for almost half of all palliative care admissions in 2008-09. Interestingly, 12% of those admitted were under 55 years old. Admission rates were higher among males, Indigenous Australians and those living in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas.

‘The majority of admissions for palliative care were due to cancer, with cancer the principal diagnosis in 60% of cases. When considering both principal and additional diagnoses, this percentage rose to 77%,’ Mr Diverty said.

Of all deaths in Australia in 2008-09, just over half (52%) occurred in an admitted patient setting within a hospital.

Among those who died in hospital between 1999–2000 and 2008–09, there was an increase (from 21% to 34%) in the proportion who were palliative care patients.

The AIHW has also released a related technical report today, Identifying palliative care separations in admitted patient data.

‘The second report recommends a more inclusive approach to identifying those hospital admissions for which palliative care was a substantial component of the care provided,’ Mr Diverty said.

‘This approach was used in the data analyses undertaken in the main report.’

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.

Canberra, 19 October 2011

Further information: Mr Brent Diverty, AIHW, tel. 02 6249 5096, mob. 0438 471 352

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032

Full report: Trends in palliative care in Australian hospitals