Palliative care is everyone’s business

Palliative care is an important part of the government’s healthcare agenda. I am sure that she and other members would be particularly pleased to see the $52 million that the government announced during National Palliative Care Week to improve palliative care services and training. While I am here I want to acknowledge the work of the board and CEO of Palliative Care Australia and congratulate them on the work they do, particularly in raising the awareness of palliative care, as we saw, through National Palliative Care Week.

The slogan—and it is not just a slogan—is: ‘Palliative care is everyone’s business: let’s work together.’ I would like to mention in my contribution today two people who have had firsthand experience in recent times, two people that I was very close to, who are no longer with us but who lived a great quality of life due to the care they received from palliative care professionals—Kaye Sales, a lady in my electorate who was the face of palliative care launched last week in the wonderful video, and Gail Catalano. They were two people who were very close to me. I had the fortunate experience to be with them in their last days and they were very grateful recipients of a life that was assisted by palliative care.

The 25 per cent increase into palliative care services and training will help to improve and support education and training opportunities in palliative care for health professionals and promote the importance of advanced care planning. I have spoken about this previously in this place. It is very important that we all have an advanced care plan so that our wishes and our values and our choices are respected. We know that less than one per cent of Australians over 70 actually have an advanced care plan directive in place. It lets our loved ones and our doctors and health professionals know about the level of care and quality of life that we would like to have if we are no longer able to make those decisions on our own. It is a conversation that we need to have with our families, and it is very difficult.

One of the speakers on the day at the launch of National Palliative Care Week was Dr Sarah Winch. She said:

Dying shouldn’t be left to chance. Sometimes after a catastrophic diagnosis that leaves you feeling flattened and powerless—you can assume control. When we feel like all hope is gone a new hope emerges; a ‘good’ death according to our wishes and beliefs.

She went on:

Each and every Australian needs a plan to die—a plan that sets out what you want and guides your loved ones and health care professionals.

The things that she recommended that we think about were: what life means to me; what a good death is; a ‘bucket list’ of things that you want to do and things that you never want to do again; how to build a support crew; how to write down a care wish list; where you would like to be; the legalities; the cultural and religious requirements to communicate; going to what you want and how to get it to help you resolve your care and treatment issues. She said, very rightly, that facing death is never easy, but that we have world class health and palliative care services available in Australia and bringing them together is important. She said:

The most powerful thing we can do is make a clear plan that simply states our wishes to enable those caring for us to follow them through when the time comes.

I did have those very clear indications particularly from the lady who was my cousin, Gail Catalano. She left us in no doubt as to what she wanted in those last days. One of the most important things, as her very close relative helping to make those things happen, was knowing what she wanted, how she wanted it and making sure that she got her wishes so that she was left able to live in the way that she wanted to until she died. That was the greatest gift, along with the gift we had of sharing those final days and weeks and months and being able to make sure that she had the things that made her happy right up until the end.

We will make sure that general practitioners, medical specialists and allied health professionals and nurses who give their time—and they are such wonderful people; I cannot speak highly enough of those—and provide the palliative care and really do care about the people they manage at this time are acknowledged.