Cancer patients make up bulk of palliative care

More than two-thirds of palliative care patients admitted to Australian hospitals have been diagnosed with cancer, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Palliative care information development: progress report on the National Minimum Data Set for Palliative Care reports progress on first-ever national information on palliative care services in Australian hospitals.

There were an estimated 17,824 palliative care admissions to public and private hospitals and hospices in 1997-98.

The majority of palliative care patients in Australia live in the city (75% in 1997-98), are Australian-born (68%), and have been diagnosed with cancer (70%).

About 84% of palliative care admissions were to public hospitals. The average length of stay for these patients was about 13 days (compared to 4 days for other patients).

Co-author of the report, Clara Jellie, said the development of comprehensive data for palliative care was urgently needed to provide more detail on the range of services available and the people who use them.

'Caring for the dying has always been regarded as one of the basics of providing good medical care, but it's only in recent decades that care for people with terminal illnesses has become a specialised area of medical and nursing practice', Ms Jellie said.

'Also, we all know that a great deal of palliative care is provided outside of hospitals-particularly in people's own homes. However, nationally consistent data on this care is not yet collected.

'AIHW is currently working with State and Territory health authorities and the Commonwealth to ensure that information on palliative care provided in the community will be available in the future.'

'The Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care is funding the project under the National Strategy for Palliative Care in Australia 1998-2003.'

Other findings in the report include:

  • More than one-third of palliative care admissions were patients aged 75 years or over; approximately two-thirds were patients aged 65 years or more.
  • Men accounted for 54% of palliative care admissions to hospital.
  • Procedures were reported for 45% of palliative care patients. The most common procedures performed were counselling (1,688 admissions); diagnostic physical therapy (766); injections or infusions (673); other rehabilitation therapy (668); and blood transfusions (627 admissions).

23 February 2000

Further information: Clara Jellie, tel. 02 6244 1180.
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032.