New figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show hospitalisations for palliative care increased 19 per cent in four years – the most growth of all reasons for a hospital stay.
The data was released on Wednesday as Australia marks National Palliative Care Week (21-28 May).
Previous research has shown that the majority of Australians would prefer to die at home but most end up dying in hospital.
A report by the Grattan Institute in 2014 found that 70 per cent of people in Australia want to die at home yet only about 14 per cent do so.
People are twice as likely to die at home in New Zealand, the United States, Ireland and France, the Grattan report found.
The new AIHW figures highlight the need for greater choice and availability of palliative care, says leading specialist Associate Professor Josephine Clayton.
While the data illustrates the importance of palliative care as an option in hospitals, most Australians would prefer to die at home and this option should be supported, said Associate Professor Clayton, director for learning and research in palliative care at HammondCare.
“Up to 75 per cent of Australians would prefer to die in their home, and where good quality palliative care is available we have seen up to 90 per cent of people in some areas fulfil their wish to spend their last days in their home surrounded by their loved ones in a familiar environment,” she said.
HammondCare this week released new data on its Palliative Care Home Support Program (PCHSP) showing that 72 per cent of people referred to the service fulfilled their wish of dying at home.
Since the program began in late 2013 in NSW, 1,280 people have been able to die at home as they wished, the provider said.
HammondCare runs the PCHSP program in seven local health districts in NSW in partnership with Sacred Heart Health Service and Calvary Health Care Sydney.
The program has helped over 2,000 people while more than 800 care workers have also been trained in palliative care as part of the initiative, many in rural and remote areas.
An educational website has also been developed under the program containing information about palliative care.
Call for equitable access to services
Palliative Care Australia CEO Liz Callaghan said that people living outside of major cities have less access to community-based palliative care options, which leaves them more reliant on hospitals.
“People living outside of major cities don’t get to exercise the same choice about where they die, because they have less access to residential aged care, 24-hour community based services and hospice services. People should be able to access the same level of care regardless of their location.”