Study limitations

This study is the first of its kind to report nationally on the receipt of specialist palliative care and other services for a population receiving and in need of palliative care, and as such had some limitations.

We were not able to capture the severity of the condition assigned as being amenable to palliative care or whether the death was truly expected or not. Therefore, it may not always have been clinically appropriate for the person to have been referred to specialist palliative care. It cannot be assumed that all people who died from conditions amenable to palliative care did not receive appropriate palliative care from other health professionals (outside of specialist palliative care). We also did not have the data to estimate whether care provided by non-palliative care specialists/health professionals involved a palliative approach to care, and therefore were not able to report on generalist palliative care. This continues to be a large data gap in the national data, which this report was not able to address. The need for and receipt of palliative care may last for years, the full extent of which was not captured in this study as it was limited to the last year before death.

For our baseline 'predictable death' population, the proportion receiving specialist palliative care may be underestimated because some services in private hospitals and in community-based palliative care may not be captured. The absolute number of deaths and specialist palliative care services would be greater if data from WA and NT were included, but the proportions calculated should be reasonably representative of the national situation. The results presented here do allow meaningful interpretation and insight, despite these limitations.