Demand for palliative care medicines has skyrocketed in Australia

Peter Terlato 25 May 2016

elderly patient

There's been almost an 80% increase in benefits payments in just five years.

As the Australian population grows and people live longer, the demand for palliative care services has become more substantial.

The latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) show an almost 80% leap in Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) payments for all palliative medicine specialist services over the past five years.

In 2014-15, 13,000 patients received an MBS-subsidised palliative medicine specialist service. 71,500 of these benefit services were provided nationally at a cost of $5.3 million, up from around $3 million in 2010-11.

The AIHW report Palliative care services in Australia 2016 reveals hospitalisations for palliative care patients rose 11% from 55,983 in 2009-10 to 62,164 in 2013-14.

However, palliative care patients were responsible for just 1% of all hospitalisations, both public and private, in 2013-14.

Cancer (53%) was the most common principal diagnosis for palliative care hospital patients.

Almost one-third (30%) of hospital patients with a principal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer turned out to be in need of palliative care, followed closely by lung cancer (29%) and liver cancer (20%).

The elderly - patients aged 75 years and over - accounted for more than half (51%) of all palliative care hospitalisations, while there was an even split between hospitalised males and females requiring palliative care.

More than two fifths of all patients that died in while in hospital in 2014-15 were palliative care patients.

Recently, we reported that Australians were paying more in hospital fees despite a reduction in the number of visits.

AIHW spokesperson Tim Beard says these services provide relief from pain and other distressing symptoms for people who are dying.

"Such services are in increasing demand as patterns of disease at the end of life change. An increasing proportion of Australians are suffering from chronic illnesses, and people are therefore more likely to die from chronic illnesses and make use of palliative care services," he says.

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