West Australian Health Minister Roger Cook recently said that the government wanted all West Australians to be able to get quality palliative care when needed.
He is reported as saying:
“No matter the outcome of the voluntary assisted dying bill we want to ensure that all West Australians know about palliative care and can access quality palliative care where and when it’s needed.”
If that is true, then it would be good to know how the government plans to fix the dire state of palliative care in Western Australia.
According to Dr Anil Tandon, a palliative care physician in WA, Western Australia has the lowest ratio of palliative carers to patients in the country.
Dr Tandon details that as of November 2018, there were approximately 15 full-time equivalent (FTE) palliative carers for a state with a population of 2.6 million people, spread across the vastest geographic region in the country.
This equates to 0.57 FTE per 100,000 people, which is the lowest ratio in the country. The second-lowest rate is in Victoria, the only state to have legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Dr Tandon says that a “minimal” estimate of palliative care would mean that it is available to anyone dying from 10 specified conditions, including cancer, heart failure, chronic lung disease and Alzheimer's disease. This would cover 63% of all deaths.
A “mid-range” estimate of palliative care access would be based on palliative care being provided to people admitted to hospital for a condition and dying from the same condition. This would cover 69% of all deaths.
A “maximal” estimate of palliative care would be available to 82% of deaths, and excluding sudden deaths.
If Minister Cook’s desire was to be met, it would mean that the WA government would be aiming for the “maximal” availability, ie 83% of deaths.
Currently, palliative care availability in WA is less than the “minimal estimate,” covering only 50% of deaths.
Dr Tandon estimates that in order to bring palliative care from where it is currently to where it needs to be to meet Minister Cook’s desired outcome, an extra $109 million per annum would be needed to be invested into palliative care.
The question is, then, is the WA government willing to put its money where its mouth is in order to provide end of life choices to vulnerable West Australians, or will it follow Victoria’s lead and legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide before providing any additional funding to palliative care?