All Australians have the right to be treated with dignity and best practice care during their final days, weeks and months of life and this will require significant evolution of the health care system to enable nurses to lead the delivery of palliative care.

Launching the Australian College of Nursing’s (ACN) Achieving Quality Palliative Care for All: The Essential Role of Nurses White Paper in Canberra today, CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN called for a nationwide conversation regarding palliative care and focus on ensuring people with life-limiting illnesses receive personalised care and support.

“The death of someone we love is exceptionally difficult to face and I think that has made it challenging for us as a nation to have frank and fearless policy discussions about how we care for people who are confronting their mortality,” Adjunct Professor Ward explained.

Palliative care is person and family-centred care provided for a person with an advanced disease who has little or no prospect of cure and who is expected to die.

“We tend to think of palliative care as being delivered in a hospital or hospice in a person’s last few days,” Adjunct Professor Ward said. “But done properly, palliative care should be provided throughout our health care system – in general practices, aged care facilities, in the community and even in people’s own homes.”

Around 160,000 Australians die each year and 70 per cent of these deaths are due to expected causes. In the five-year period between 2011-12 and 2015-16 there was a nearly 30 per cent growth in palliative care hospitalisation.

“Our population is growing and ageing and people have increasingly complex and diverse illnesses,” Adjunct Professor Ward said.

“The nursing profession makes up the largest component of the palliative care workforce. ACN wants to see increased support for nurse-led models of care that will ensure people receive the physical, emotional, social and spiritual care they deserve.

“This requires recognition of the skills and expertise of nurses and as palliative care team facilitators; funding for ongoing training and development of dedicated palliative care nursing positions across metropolitan and regional settings, and reforms to enable palliative care nurses to refer and prescribe.”

There is evidence nurse-led models of palliative care significantly improve patient outcomes, reduce hospital admissions and can lower health care costs.

In further acknowledging Australians’ right to dignity at this vulnerable stage of their lives, ACN has invested in providing a Graduate Certificate in Palliative Care. This will ensure nurses are equipped with the skills and knowledge to deliver best-practice care, whilst maintaining a person-centred focus.

This White Paper was written by Distinguished Professor Patsy Yates FACN (Chair of ACN’s End of Life Care Policy Chapter), Dr Melissa Bloomer FACN (Deputy Chair) and Chapter Members.

A full copy of ACN’s Achieving Quality Palliative Care for All: The Essential Role of Nurses White Paper is available here.

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