Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2020. Palliative care services. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 13 May 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/palliative-care-services
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Palliative care services. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/palliative-care-services
Palliative care services. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 23 July 2020, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/palliative-care-services
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Palliative care services [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020 [cited 2021 May. 13]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/palliative-care-services
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2020, Palliative care services, viewed 13 May 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/palliative-care-services
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Palliative care aims to prevent and relieve suffering and improve the quality of life for people with a life-limiting condition and their families (WHO 2019). Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, end-of-life care refers to care for people who are likely to die within the next 12 months (ACSQHC 2015).
In Australia, government agencies, as well as private and not-for-profit bodies, deliver palliative care. Palliative care occurs in almost all health care settings, including neonatal units, paediatric services, general practices, community settings and residential aged care services.
Specialist palliative care services operate from professional inpatient services, hospices and community-based specialist services (Department of Health 2019). The demand for palliative care services is likely to increase in the future due to a growing and ageing population, as the disease burden is greater among older age groups (AIHW 2019; WHO 2014).
Current data sources do not allow for reporting on aspects of palliative care and end-of-life care provided in Australia. For example, the AIHW does not have access to data on topics such as palliative care-related expenditure; community-based palliative care services; Medicare Benefits Schedule-subsidised services provided by general practitioners and non-palliative care medical specialists; and the number of palliative care beds in hospitals, both acute and subacute. The AIHW is working with Australian and state and territory governments, as well as other relevant stakeholders to expand the available national palliative care and end-of-life care information. A Palliative Care and End-of-Life Care Data Development Working Group, reporting to the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council, is steering the development of a set of national priorities for such information over the next 10 years.
A person may receive palliative care (hospitalisations that involved specialist palliative care) or other end-of-life care (hospitalisations where a diagnosis of palliative care was recorded, but that care was not necessarily delivered by a palliative care specialist) as an admitted patient in hospital, and may require one or more hospitalisations while receiving this care. Some of these patients will die in hospital.
Admitted patient data from public and private hospitals show that, in 2017–18:
From 2013–14 to 2017–18, palliative care hospitalisations increased by around one sixth (or 17%) to 45,600 (Figure 1), a similar rate to the increase for all hospitalisations over the same period.
See Hospital care.
The number of palliative care hospitalisations increased from 38,977 in 2013–14 to 45,561 in 2017–18.
Figure 1 data table (124KB XLSX)
The Royal Australian College of Physicians describes palliative medicine as ‘the specialist care of people with terminal illnesses and chronic health conditions in community, hospital and hospice settings’. Palliative medicine physicians work collaboratively with a multidisciplinary team of health professionals to ‘provide end-of-life care, provide relief from pain and symptoms of illness, and optimise the quality of life for a patient’ (RACP 2020). Some of these services may be subsidised under Australia’s universal health insurance scheme, Medicare. In 2018–19:
Between 2014–15 and 2018–19, Medicare benefits paid for all palliative medicine specialist services increased by 31%.
The use of prescription medications to provide ‘relief from pain and other distressing symptoms’ (WHO 2014) is an important part of palliative care. In most cases, this involves medications being prescribed by the treating clinician. In 2004, the Australian Government introduced the Pharmaceutical Benefits for Palliative Care Section as a subsection of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) schedule to improve access to essential and affordable medications for patients receiving palliative care. Palliative care-related prescriptions, as described below, refer to medications prescribed by approved prescribers and subsequently dispensed by approved suppliers (community pharmacies or eligible hospital pharmacies) under the Pharmaceutical Benefits for Palliative Care Section. It should be noted that patients receiving palliative care can also access medications in the general listings of the PBS/Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS) schedule, such as oxycodone; however, these medications are not included in the following information.
See Medicines in the health system.
The palliative care workforce consists of a number of professional groups, including specialist palliative medicine physicians, palliative care nurses, general practitioners, pharmacists, other medical specialists (such as oncologists and geriatricians), as well as other health workers, support staff and volunteers.
Nationally, in 2017, there were 250 employed specialist palliative medicine physicians and 3,400 employed palliative care nurses. The majority of doctors employed as specialist palliative medicine physicians were women (64%), which is double the female proportion of all employed medical specialists (32%).
See Health workforce.
The Australian Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration (PCOC) is a national palliative care outcomes and benchmarking program. PCOC’s primary objective is to systematically improve patient outcomes, including pain and symptom control. As participation in PCOC is voluntary, data reported by the program represents a subset of specialist palliative care services delivered in Australia.
For the 133 specialist palliative care services participating in PCOC in 2018:
For more information on palliative care services, see:
Visit Palliative care services for more on this topic.
ACSQHC (Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care) 2015. National consensus statement: essential elements for safe and high-quality end-of-life care. Sydney: ACSQHC.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 19. Cat. no. BOD 22. Canberra: AIHW.
Department of Health 2019. National Palliative Care Strategy 2018. Canberra: Department of Health.
RACP (Royal Australian College of Physicians) 2020. Australasian Chapter of Palliative Medicine. Sydney: RACP. Viewed 25 March 2020.
WHO (World Health Organization) 2014. Global atlas of palliative care at the end of life. Geneva: WHO.
WHO 2019. WHO definition of palliative care. Geneva: WHO. Viewed 30 August 2019.
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