Senate debates

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Matters of Public Interest

Palliative Care

1:49 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to discuss a matter of great public interest. It concerns Australia's palliative care system and the importance of advanced care planning as an essential element within this system. There is no reason Australia should not aspire to have the most efficient and well-funded palliative care system in the world. The way we care for our most vulnerable, sick and dying citizens should be of the utmost importance. Ensuring we care for people so that they are provided with respect and dignity says so much about our society and its values. Relieving and preventing the suffering of a patient's pain is an essential part of any medical treatment. Fundamental to the process of palliative care is advanced care planning, which all Australian families across our great nation should engage in with their families and friends, because this issue is one that will affect all of us.

National Palliative Care Week commences on 19 May and runs through to 25 May this year. Palliative Care Australia's theme is 'Palliative Care—everyone's business.' This is not merely a catchy slogan; it aims to encourage all Australians to think about the palliative care system and, more importantly, to think about our loved ones and, more broadly, how we can care for the most vulnerable in our society. A nationwide educational program to disseminate information regarding palliative care is fundamental to this process. It is well understood that education is the best tool when it comes to matters of public health and an individual's wellbeing, which is why we should discuss the process of advanced care planning as an integral part of Australia's palliative care system.

Palliative care is an issue that will affect all of us, as I have said, at some point in our lives whether as a patient, a carer, a health professional, a family member or a friend. Palliative care is truly everyone's business. We all need to take responsibility for ensuring that we all have equal and quality care at the end of our life and are able to live and die well. Advance care planning acts to accomplish this—to ensure that an individual's choice about future medical treatments is respected and that their beliefs, preferences and decisions are made known to their families, carers and health professionals. This information can include the type of information a patient wishes to receive about their medical condition and how involved they will be in making informed decisions. It can also be about the sorts of clothes they want to wear, the type of food they want to eat and the location at which an individual is cared for towards the end of their life.

In life no individual is the same and therefore they will have different preferences in relation to their end-of-life needs. The reason it is imperative to have such decisions about the way in which you want to live is that people around you may improve your standard of living. This communication should ensure a person-centred approach and ensure the care is right for that particular person. Care must be provided at the correct time by the correct people and in the correct place. Crucial to this process are family, friends and medical professionals who can make the advance care planning process one of opportunity for the person being cared for.

From my first-hand experience and many people I have spoken to, having that communication with family, medical practitioners and carers provides clarity, may relieve any uncertainty and can provide reassurances to all parties so that dignity and respect is viewed as paramount. In my own family's circumstance, it certainly helped in the grieving process to know that my mother had put those processes in place so that all of the family, those caring for her and health professionals knew exactly what she wanted and when to stop intervention. I believe such communication is imperative as families may need to make decisions on behalf of the person if they are no longer able to do so for themselves. Moreover, such communication can aid, in particular, nurses and carers, who are the true heroes that care for individuals at the end of their life. From a community perspective, advance care planning is truly beneficial. It promotes the idea that every individual has a voice and that a voice is important regardless of a person's age, circumstances or health. No one individual should be treated as a burden due to their medical circumstances, and advanced care planning aims to ensure this fact.

Dying is a natural part of life. It is not a taboo subject and should not be treated as such. Our culture must reflect this. Our attitude should support a natural and dignified death, which is possible with advance care planning and a first-rate palliative care system. Advance care planning is important for all of us. I encourage all of my fellow senators and those listening to spread the message of advance care planning within their community. I encourage colleagues to have discussions with constituents so that they may have that important discussion with their family members and medical professionals. If this is accomplished, everyone's end-of-life wishes may be met. Palliative care is a very important issue facing residents of my home state of Tasmania, but underfunding of palliative care services is always a concern, especially due to our large and ever-increasing ageing population. Palliative care services are essential in our society and must remain the first point of call when it comes to caring for our most vulnerable. Through palliative care, doctors, nurses and other health professionals treat the symptoms and ease the pain of the terminally ill, making them more comfortable and helping them lead a dignified life until death. The goal is not to cure the patient, but it is also not to expressly hasten that person's death.

As stated before, dying is a normal part of life. The state should invest heavily in palliative care to ensure that a person dies with the dignity they deserve. Fundamentally, euthanasia should be viewed as unnecessary. It should not be considered when the state possesses the capacity to increase funding for palliative care. Once again, I encourage all members to have discussions with their constituents, families and health professionals, not just during National Palliative Care Week but, rather, all year round so that citizens are educated on this very important issue. These discussions are crucial to ensure that people receive the best care at the end of their life. It should also safeguard against complacency when it comes to palliative care resources. This is an issue above politics. I hope everyone in this chamber would agree with me when I say that all governments need to continue to further advance care planning and improve palliative care resources so that we care for the people who most need our help.

I will continue to fight for and support those lobbying for better palliative care services across Tasmania so that Tasmanians who receive palliative care receive the best possible care. I would expect that all members in their respective states would do the same. I would like to put on the public record my thanks in particular to Barb Baker, who heads Friends of the Northern Hospice, in northern Tasmania, which is holding a public rally in Launceston on Friday, 24 May. To anyone listening, I encourage you to come along and support Barb and her group who are working to ensure that Launceston once again has a purpose-built facility for those needing end-of-life care. I would also like to acknowledge the wonderful work that people such as Dr Frank Brennan do by educating the Australian community and making himself available to speak at public forums to educate community members about the right way we should be going about supporting those who need end-of-life care.

I would like to move to another issue in the very limited time I have left, and that is to acknowledge Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the enormous step that she made in ensuring that the NDIS and DisabilityCare Australia are going to be funded into the future. The budget that was brought down yesterday by the government has ensured that the NDIS is legislated in stone to ensure that the biggest social reform our country has ever seen is going to be supported. It was a very proud day to be a member of this government when Wayne Swan introduced the budget last night to ensure that those who have been neglected by previous governments for so long are now going to be able to access the support that they need. That benefit goes beyond individuals with disabilities and beyond their families; it is a benefit to our Australian community.