Report shows rise in palliative care hospitalisations for cancer patients

End-of-life care

By Michael Woodhead

30 Jun 2020

Palliative care hospitalisations for cancer patients are increasing at a faster rate than other hospitalisations, especially where treatment is not provided by a palliative care specialist.

Between 2012-13 and 2016-17, palliative care-related hospitalisations rose by over 25% from almost 62,000 to over 77,000, according to a new report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

This increase was greater than the 18% increase recorded for all hospitalisations over the same period, presumably due to an ageing population and a rise in chronic and incurable illnesses, said an AIHW spokesperson Matthew James.

End-of-life care hospitalisations rose by 48% over the same period, where a diagnosis of palliative care was recorded, but care was not necessarily delivered by a palliative care specialist.

Almost half (47%) of palliative care-related hospitalisations were for patients with cancer, and for certain types of cancer, palliative care played a particularly prominent role in patients’ hospital care.

‘For example, almost one-third of all hospitalisations related to pancreatic cancer were palliative care-related,’ Mr James said.

The most common cancer diagnoses for palliative care hospitalisations were lung cancer (8.8%), colorectal cancer (4.8%) and pancreatic cancer (3.5%), followed by prostate, breast, liver and brain cancers.

Palliative care and other end-of-life care hospitalisations had an average length of stay of around 10 days, compared to an average stay of 2.7 days for other hospitalisations.

Patients aged 75 years and over accounted for over half (53%) of palliative care-related hospitalisations, while 1 in 10 were patients aged under 55 years. Over half of all palliative care-related hospitalisations ended with the patient’s death (52%), compared with only 0.7% for all hospitalisations,’ said Mr James

The report showed that the number of specialist palliative medicine physicians had increased by 36% to 249 between 2013 and 2017, accounting for about 1 in 140 employed medical specialists.

The report authors said there were variations across states in models of palliative care and in settings for palliative care, which might be provided in hospitals, hospices or dedicated palliative care wards or in the home or in residential aged care facilities by community palliative care providers.

‘Today’s report shows us that more people being admitted to hospital are requiring palliative care services, but we don’t know how many of these people would preferred to have received palliative care elsewhere,’ Mr James said.

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