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The number of palliative care-related hospital admissions rose by 49% between 2001-02 and 2010-11, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Palliative care services in Australia 2013, shows that there were around 54,500 palliative care-related admissions to public and private hospitals in Australia in 2010-11.

'Patients aged 75 and over accounted for nearly half of palliative care hospital admissions in 2010-11,' said AIHW spokesperson Dr Pamela Kinnear.

Palliative care admissions accounted for 0.6% of all hospital admissions in 2010-11, but about 37% of patients who died as an admitted patient had been a palliative care patient during their final admission.

'About 16,500 patients, representing more than two-thirds of palliative care patients, died with cancer as a principal diagnosis,' Dr Kinnear said.

The report also shows that during 2011-12, nearly 12,300 permanent residential aged care residents were assessed as needing palliative care.

In the same year, around 9,600 patients received a palliative medicine specialist service subsidised through the Medicare Benefits Schedule, for which about $3.5 million was paid in benefits. Over the five years to 2011-12, benefits paid for these services more than doubled.

'In addition, more than 19,000 patients had a palliative-care related prescription subsidised through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule (PBS) during 2011-12,' Dr Kinnear said.

Laxatives were the most frequently prescribed palliative-care related medications, followed by analgesics and anti-epileptics.

There were 30,400 patients who accessed specialist palliative care services (hospital and non-hospital) in 2012, as reported to the Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration (PCOC). This represents an increase of 12% from 2011.

There were an estimated 92 specialist palliative care physicians working in Australia in 2011, of which over half were women. This was more than double the proportion of female medical practitioners practising in other clinical specialities (26%).

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, 15 November 2013

Further information: Dr Pamela Kinnear, tel. (02) 6249 5096, mob. 0421 600 377

Full publication: Palliative care services in Australia 2013