Waiting 10 days for a family member to receive palliative care can be heart-wrenching but for medical practice manager Rosemary, the ramifications are widespread. Rosemary, from a nursing background, works in regional NSW and sees first-hand how stretched services drag everyone down.
There is a ripple effect with a lack of services. When a patient is suffering and not getting access to care when they need it, families reach for help. GPs go above and beyond to help them but have their own time restrictions. Palliative care specialists get the call but often simply don’t have enough hours in the day to reach everyone. The result: a lot of people in pain.
“That does happen fairly often,” says Rosemary.
“We had a young patient, (aged) 21 ... his regular GP was overseas and we had GPs looking after him. He became very ill and the family rang palliative care because that’s what they had been asked to do,” she says.
“They were told ‘well in 10 days, the doctor can come out, the nurse can come out’ and they were just devastated. This family came into the clinic and they were just inconsolable (saying) ‘what are we going to do, how are we going to manage him?’
“One of the GPs saw them and spoke to palliative care and they actually got him to go out that day. Obviously this guy needed it, but that was potentially at somebody else’s expense because they didn’t have extra specialists on board to do it.”
Palliative care is hard to access if people don’t try to tap into services early because there are not enough specialist staff available, says Rosemary.
“It’s very hard for them to get it when they need it if they leave it too late.
“Palliative care is so stretched with resources and staffing. They do a wonderful job. It’s fantastic. But there’s only so many of them. You can’t stretch them any further.
“It’s so under-resourced. They just haven’t got the time to spend with everybody and the palliative care people, you do feel for them and you know they’re stretched.”
The impact on palliative care teams unable to reach everyone is devastating, Rosemary says: “It’s absolutely dreadful. They do what they can and they bend over backwards to help a person to get any resources they can but I think they’d be devastated that they can’t help everybody but there’s only so many of them.”
Palliative care is often effective when families get help in their homes to fulfil patient wishes of dying at home but there are many people, particularly local Aboriginal people, whose wishes aren’t fulfilled because resources aren’t there, she says.
“Aboriginal Australians, I don’t know how they manage … trying to get them to services is so hard but also trying to get services for them (is hard). It’s just that the clinics are so booked up.”
When our loved ones are diagnosed with a terminal illness they deserve the best possible care and support. But, right now, that’s not always possible because there's a shortage of specialist palliative care in NSW. That’s just not good enough. We need the NSW Government to fund an additional 139 doctors and nurses and to meet the palliative care needs of Aboriginal communities.