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The goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life of patients and families who face life-threatening illness by providing pain and symptom relief, and spiritual and psychosocial support.

The demand for palliative care services across Australia is expected to increase over time due to the continued growth and ageing of the population. In addition, the pattern of disease at the end of life is changing such that an increasing proportion of people are expected to die from chronic progressive illnesses—people with such illnesses are most likely to make use of palliative care services.

The Institute undertakes a range of statistical reporting, analysis and data development projects in relation to the delivery of palliative care services across Australia. Much of this work is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing under the National Palliative Care Program.

Where is palliative care provided?

In Australia, palliative care is delivered in a range of health-care settings, including hospitals (some of which include hospices) and the community (such as a person’s home or in residential aged care facilities).  

Palliative care in Australian hospitals

The Institute undertakes research on the number and characteristics of palliative care separations that take place in admitted patient settings in hospitals across Australia. Such care may be provided in a dedicated palliative care ward, in a hospice affiliated with a hospital, or in other beds distributed throughout a hospital.

The most recent report on this topic—entitled Trends in palliative care in Australian hospitals—was released by the Institute in 2011. This report, which covers the 10-year period from 1999–00 to 2008–09, describes those seperations in the admitted patient setting for which palliative care was a substantial component of the care provided. Key findings from the report include the fact that there has been a substantial increase in the number of palliative care hospitalisations in admitted patient settings over the years.

The Institute also released a technical paper in 2011 that examines the best approach to identifying palliative care separations in admitted patient data.

Palliative care in the community

While the importance of having a comprehensive, national data collection on community-based palliative care services is well recognised, no such collection currently exists in Australia. Nonetheless, work has been undertaken by the Institute in this area previously.

In 2004, the Institute released a report entitled National palliative care information collection: a way forward for community-based palliative care. This report outlined the feasibility, and recommended scope, of a National Minimum Data Set (NMDS) for community-based palliative care. It also presented a core minimum set of data items for a future community-based palliative care NMDS.

In 2007, the Institute released a follow-up report entitled Report on the pilot test of the community-based palliative care client data collection. This report presented results and learnings from a pilot test of proposed data collection activities. A national sample of palliative care agencies had participated in the pilot test.

National palliative care performance indicators

Between 2005 and 2008, the AIHW conducted four national surveys of palliative care agencies. The information was used to determine performance against four indicators that were designed to assist in the evaluation of progress against the objectives of the first National Palliative Care Strategy. That strategy was released by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing in 2000.

Results from the surveys have been published and are available on the AIHW's website:

In 2010, the Department of Health and Ageing released a second National Palliative Care Strategy. The Institute is currently assisting the Department with the development of performance indicators for this second strategy.

Want more information?

Mental Health and Palliative Care Unit  

Email:  

Telephone: 02 6244 1052

Facsimile: 02 6244 1299