What matters most in Palliative Care

To celebrate National Palliative Care Week, UTS Health sits down with Professor Deborah Parker, President-Elect of Palliative Care NSW, Chair of the Healthy Ageing Chapter of the Australian College of Nursing and Professor of Aged Care (Dementia) at UTS IMPACCT: Improving Palliative, Aged and Chronic Care through Clinical Research and Translation. Deborah is also co-lead of the ELDAC (End of Life Directions in Aged Care) project, a $15 million nation-wide collaborative project that aims to connect specialist palliative care services to older Australians who are receiving government-supported care through either an aged care facility or receiving a home care package.

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Professor Deborah Parker

About me

I started my nursing training at Westmead Hospital in 1981, many years ago.

I first worked in a little country satellite hospital in Wyong, working in aged care rehabilitation. It was around that time that I realised that I had a real flair for working with older Australians. I’ve also worked in a geriatric assessment ward in Canberra and studied a postgraduate qualification in aged care in Bendigo.

Why palliative care?

While working in palliative care research for an inpatient hospice unit in Adelaide, I was encouraged to explore the interface between older people and palliative care, which was quite a new field to study at the time. Over the years, I’ve conducted research that focuses on palliative care for older people, as well as the care for people with dementia.

What is palliative care?

Palliative Care is a philosophy of care.

It stems from a history of cancer-focused care and over the years has expanded to treating people with chronic heart failure, respiratory failure, dementia and a whole range of other diseases.

It’s about focusing on the individual and meeting their holistic needs by assembling a multidisciplinary team.

For example, a person who’s diagnosed with a life-limiting illness or has a chronic condition that becomes life-limiting, such as heart disease, won’t just have physical problems. They will also have to deal with loss that’s both physical and emotional.

Palliative Care caters for that.

And not just the patient. Palliative Care provides support to those around the person who may be in need of some assistance.

“For me, palliative care is the complete picture, as treatment can become very complex.”

How it’s changed

It’s taken a few decades but, thankfully, palliative care is now recognised as a core business for residential aged care facilities.

The average age of a patient in residential aged care these days is well into the late 80s. And with that comes a whole range of comorbidities, such as vision, hearing or mobility problems.

The future

Palliative Care is one of those specialities that’s knocking on the door, as is dementia and diabetes. The Australian Government is very supportive of palliative care.

A lot of complexity goes into looking after somebody that’s palliative and older. The government has put a lot of resources in helping us understanding what it is, as it’s a very different population to what you see in an inpatient hospice unit, which is still quite cancer-focused and patients are a little younger than older Australians.

What do you think of the support Palliative Care has in the sector?

Palliative Care is one of those specialities that’s knocking on the door, as is dementia and diabetes.

The Australian Department of Health is very supportive of palliative care. The National Palliative Care Program funds a whole range of projects that have been very successful in improving palliative care in Australia for many people.

The NSW Government last year provided $100 million in funding for palliative care. This will go towards educational activities, clinical placements and increasing the number of health professionals employed in NSW.

What needs to be done

We’ve come a long way. But we have an ageing workforce and a health workforce shortage as well, so we need to advance the workforce of the future through awareness and further investment.

My work with ELDAC

The ELDAC project is a $15 million government-funded project run by a consortium of organisations that have come together to connect specialist palliative care services with aged care services provided to older Australians.

These older Australians are receiving government-supported care through either a residential aged care facility or who are receiving a home care package, and 70% of the workers in aged care services in Australia are TAFE-trained personal care workers.

So the project also aims to upskill aged care service staff at all levels as well as launch a GP training programme, educate general practitioners and provide information services to staff working in primary health care or aged care facilities.

“70% of workers in aged care services are TAFE-trained personal care workers.”

My advice

Thinking about palliative care? Just do it! I love my job and I love working in this space. If you work in palliative care, you generally tend to stay in palliative care. We don’t move in and out. We love it.

Some students are lucky enough to do a clinical placement in a palliative care unit as part of their undergraduate degree, which is a great way to start. There are also opportunities in Australia to do clinical placements through a national government-funded programme called PEPA.

“If you work in palliative care, you generally tend to stay in palliative care. We don’t move in and out. We love it.”

Want to know more?

Get in touch! We’re fortunate to have world-class palliative care practitioners and academics at UTS.

Professor David Currow, Professor Meera Agar, Professor Jane Phillips, as well as myself, are more than happy to talk about what a career in palliative care looks like.

And finally…

I encourage health professionals to have a frank conversation with their patients (where appropriate), about what’s important to them. To provide holistic care, we need to understand their needs – and not just their physical needs.

I also encourage individuals at any age to discuss with their loved ones what their wishes are, should something happen to them.

It’s important to find out what matters most to you. Frank conversations, where appropriate, can make a real difference.

Read more about National Palliative Care Week.

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