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Palliative care a growth industry

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The ageing population and the increasing prevalence of chronic illness has driven a sharp rise in demand for palliative care in hospitals.

There has been a 52 per cent jump in palliative care-related hospitalisations in the past decade, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the majority involving patients with cancer.

The Institute reported that almost 62,000 people were admitted to hospital for palliative care in 2012-13, up from 40,435 in 2003-04, and the overwhelming proportion were, not unexpectedly, were elderly or in late middle age.

Institute spokesman Geoff Neideck said a shift in the pattern of disease afflicting people towards the end of their lives – the growing prevalence of chronic illnesses – contributed to the increased use of palliative care, as did growth in the number of people living into old age.

“As we would expect, palliative care services are accessed more frequently by older people – people aged 75 years and [older] accounted for just over half of all palliative care hospitalisations,” Mr Neideck said.

The report showed that 56 per cent of patients hospitalised for palliative care had cancer, and palliative care was particularly prominent in a treatment of those with certain types of the disease.

For instance, he said, a third of all hospitalisations related to pancreatic cancer were related to palliative care.

The Institute’s report, Palliative care services in Australia 2015, also detailed the sort of medications patients in palliative care were prescribed.

It found more than 51,200 prescriptions were provided to 25,900 patients in 2013-14, 87 per cent of which were subsidised by the Federal Government.

Laxatives were the most commonly-prescribed drug, followed by analgesics and anti-epileptics.

Adrian Rollins