Palliative Care

We all know that death is inevitable. Contemplating our own mortality can evoke intense feelings of anxiety and fear for many of us. For some people, however, death is an ever-present part of life, particularly for those suffering from a terminal illness. For many of these people, palliative care offers them the chance to live their life as fully and comfortably as possible. A 2014 study by the Grattan Institute titled Dying well highlights a growing need for improved experiences of dying in Australia. The study found that over 70 per cent of people want to die at home, surrounded by their love ones in a safe and comforting place. However, only 14 per cent of these people get the opportunity to do so. Rather than leaving this life in a place where they feel comfortable, they are restricted to living their last days in hospitals or nursing homes. This does not seem right.

Across Maitland and Dungog there are 79 individuals currently receiving palliative care, as they have chosen to die at home. On Monday, the Maitland Mercury ran a front-page story on the restrictions of our local palliative care service, due to a lack of funding by the New South Wales Government. Fiona Murphy of Rutherford was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only weeks to live. Her only wish was to die at home. Between 8.30 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. palliative care nurses visited the Murphy household to offer Fiona pain relief and improve her quality of life. But, due to a lack of government funding, this care stopped at 5.00 p.m. This meant Fiona suffered discomfort and pain during the night. With no palliative care nurses available, she was unable to be administered any pain relief. No-one should have to experience this.

A month ago I made an urgent representation to the Minister for Health after I was contacted by a woman whose father receives palliative care. She was distressed and agitated. Due to the lack of 24-hour palliative care services, her father suffered unimaginable pain and discomfort during the night. All she asked for was more funding to ensure more nurses were on the ground. To date, I have not received a response from the Minister, not even an acknowledgment. The Minister needs to act urgently. The Minister needs to think about the 79 palliative care patients currently in Maitland and Dungog who have chosen to die at home. They deserve the care and support we all wish for. Our local service is short staffed and stretched to the limit. More government funding is needed. Fiona Murphy's last wish was to die at home, surrounded by her family, in a dignified way without pain. Only a 24‑hour palliative care service would have guaranteed this. No-one else should have to suffer like this in their last days.

The Maitland community is growing at a rate of five new people a day. We have many people coming to the area without the support of their family to help in times of crisis because their family members are out of town or interstate. This means that families like the Murphys, who have to stay home to look after their ill family members, are at a heightened risk of poverty afterwards. I find it appalling that we do not have all the nursing positions filled, as this places more stress on the rest of the palliative care team. It is good to see that the Hunter New England Health, Lower Hunter health sector manager Lynne Bickerstaff has recognised the need for a 24‑hour service. It is now up to the Minister to provide the funds for it.

Palliative care saves the hospital system money, and an investment in palliative care would save hospital resources for those who can recover from illness and injury. But, more importantly, it provides dignity and assistance to those with terminal illnesses. This is not just an issue confined to Maitland; 83,000 people from across New South Wales have signed petitions calling on the Minister and this Government to increase funding for palliative care services. We have a responsibility, as representatives of our communities, to fight for vital services. Individuals, families and professionals are calling out for more funding. It seems as though the Minister is just not listening.

In talking about palliative care, I take this opportunity to congratulate citizens of Maitland who participated in the Relay for Life. I signed the palliative care pledge on that day because I think it is important to provide palliative care services. The participants in the Relay for Life, which went from 10.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m., raised $91,000 for cancer services in Maitland, which is great. I wish them every success in the future. I urge the Minister to look at funding for palliative care and to make sure that families like the Murphys are not left to suffer in silence and on their own.

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