Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Palliative care services in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 02 December 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Palliative care services in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/palliative-care-services/palliative-care-services-in-australia
Palliative care services in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 28 October 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/palliative-care-services/palliative-care-services-in-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Palliative care services in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2022 Dec. 2]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/palliative-care-services/palliative-care-services-in-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Palliative care services in Australia, viewed 2 December 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/palliative-care-services/palliative-care-services-in-australia
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Medicare-subsidised specialist services
Residential Aged Care
Impact of COVID-19 on palliative care services
Where do I go for more information?
Palliative care aims to prevent and relieve suffering and improve the quality of life of people (adults, children and their families) facing problems associated with life-limiting illness. Palliative care can be delivered by a wide range of health and community providers, is not limited to any specific condition, can be delivered at any stage of illness, and can accompany curative treatments. With an ageing and growing population, it is projected that the demand for palliative care and end-of-life care will rise substantially.
Identifying and accessing information on when palliative care has been provided and by whom remains a significant challenge (see below for further details).
See Glossary and Technical Information for further details on the definitions, data, and data sources used on this page.
PDF version of this section
In Australia, government agencies, as well as private and not-for-profit bodies, deliver palliative care in many health care settings, including but not limited to specialist inpatient and community-based palliative care services, neonatal units, paediatric services, geriatric services, public and private hospitals, general practices, disability services, and residential and community aged care services.
Identifying palliative care and end-of-life care in existing data collections and across all health settings remains a significant challenge, particularly care delivered in community, primary care, and residential aged care settings. For example, limited national data are currently available on 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 data on this page is focused on specific settings where systems are in place to record a palliative care service, in particular specialist palliative care.
The AIHW is working with palliative care stakeholders to help address data gaps in palliative care reporting. The AIHW in collaboration with the End-of-Life Care Data Development Working Group released the National Palliative Care and End-of-Life Care Information Priorities report (PDF, 890KB) in January 2022. This document outlines an aspirational vision for the future of national palliative care and end-of-life care information development over the next decade and articulates priorities aimed at supporting that vision.
Palliative care-related hospitalisations are those where palliative care was provided during all or part of an episode of admitted patient care. It includes hospitalisations where the primary clinical purpose is palliative care and care is provided in a palliative care unit or by a palliative care specialist (referred to as palliative care hospitalisation) and hospitalisations with a recorded diagnosis of palliative care but where the primary clinical purpose of care is not recorded as palliative care (referred to as other end-of-life care hospitalisation; see Technical Information).
In 2019–20, there were 87,000 palliative care-related hospitalisations (49,200 for palliative care and 37,700 for other end-of-life care).
Between 2015–16 and 2019–20, palliative care-related hospitalisations increased by almost one fifth (18%) – this increase was at a steeper rate than that for hospitalisations for all reasons (6%) over the same period.
For more information refer to the section on admitted patient palliative care.
Medicare-subsidised palliative medicine specialist services (identified through specific MBS items) are those provided by palliative medicine physician/specialist. These services cover patient attendances (or consultations) provided in different settings – hospital/consulting room or other setting (such as a person’s place of residence, including home, residential aged care or institution) – as well as services such as case conferencing (community case conference and discharge case conference).
In 2020–21, 15,800 patients received 77,000 palliative medicine specialist services.
The decline in the number of MBS-subsidised palliative medicine specialist services first observed between 2018–19 to 2019–20 continued in the 12 months to 2020–21 (8.7% decline between 2019–20 and 2020–21). This is in contrast to the 3 years leading to 2018–19 where services had been increasing.
For more information refer to medicare-subsidised palliative medicine services.
Palliative care-related prescriptions are an important component of care for palliative patients. One of the attributes of palliative care is to ‘provide relief from pain and other distressing symptoms’ (WHO 2020a). Palliative care-related prescriptions are defined as those listed in the Palliative Care Schedule of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). This schedule aims to improve access to essential and affordable medications for patients receiving palliative care.
In 2020–21, there were 1.2 million palliative care-related prescriptions provided to almost 515,000 patients.
Between 2016–17 and 2020–21, the number of palliative care-related prescriptions increased on average by 6% per year, with the steepest increase being for gastrointestinal symptom prescriptions (13% average annual increase).
For more information refer to the section on palliative care-related medications.
The Australian Government subsidises residential aged care services for older Australians whose care needs are such that they can no longer remain living in their own homes. The data used here are based on Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) appraisals, which are used to determine Australian Government subsidies for people living in permanent residential aged care (PRAC) services.
In 2020–21, there were 4,500 people using permanent residential aged care with an ACFI appraisal indicating the need for palliative care (only 1.9% of the 243,500 people using PRAC).
For more information refer to the section on palliative care in residential aged care.
Key measures of quality care are the outcomes that patients, their families and carers achieve. The Australian Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration (PCOC) is a national program that aims to systematically improve patient and carer outcomes, using standardised validated clinical assessment tools (clinician and patient-rated scales) to benchmark and measure outcomes. These include timelines of palliative care, responsiveness to urgent needs, and responsiveness and appropriateness of the care plan in place.
In 2021, 58,700 patients received palliative care from the 177 palliative care services participating in PCOC.
Achieving an absent/mild symptom outcome is less likely when the patient has moderate/severe symptoms to begin with, especially for those with distress from fatigue and breathing problems:
Between 2017 and 2021, there was a 36% increase in the number of services participating in PCOC, with the rate of increase in services slowing in the 12 months to 2021.
For more information refer to the section on Palliative care patient outcomes.
The palliative care workforce is made up of a broad range of professional groups, including specialist palliative medicine physicians, palliative care nurses, general practitioners, pharmcists, allied health professionals, other medician specilaists (such as oncologists and getriatricians), as well as other health workers, support staff and volunteers. Each of these play a unique role in supporting people with a life limiting illness to receive comprehensive, patient-centred care. However, existing national data sources only capture information on physicians with a primary specialty of palliative medicine (palliative medicine physicians) and nurses working in palliative care (palliative care nurses).
In 2020, there were 300 palliative medicine physicians and 3,800 palliative care nurses employed in Australia.
Between 2016 and 2020, there was a 29% increase in the number of employed palliative medicine physicians and a 9.5% increase in palliative care nurses.
For more information refer to the section on the Palliative care workforce.
The COVID-19 pandemic was anticipated to impact palliative care in a number of ways, including disruptions in service delivery and increased demand of palliative care-related resources such as palliative care specialists and medications (WHO 2020b). A high proportion of people using palliative care services and in permanent residential aged care are aged 70 and over and/or are immunocompromised and so are at an increased risk of dying due to COVID-19.
By looking at monthly service activity data we can assess whether the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on the delivery and receipt of palliative care services during 2020 and 2021.
These falls coincided with the stricter public health restrictions and lockdowns in certain regions at these times, however fluctuations in counts may reflect a number of factors that may or may not be related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Annual palliative care outcomes and workforce data also provides insights on how people were accessing and receiving palliative care services and their outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic:
The most recent hospitals data only captures the first 3 months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. More data over a longer period of time, and including patients experiencing COVID-19 who received palliative care, is needed to provide insights on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on palliative care service activity and outcomes.
For more information on palliative care services see:
WHO (World Health Organization) (2020a) Global atlas of palliative care at the end of life, Geneva: WHO, accessed 23 March 2022.
WHO (2020b) Discussion on palliative care in the time of COVID-19. 8 April 2020, Geneva: WHO, accessed 9 July 2021.
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