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Getting people access to palliative care

Martin trial “illustrates need for better care”

2004. Hospice New Zealand is saddened that Lesley Martin felt pressured while providing care for her mother and emphasized the need for more palliative care specialists in New Zealand.

Hospice President Dalton Kelly said the trial of Lesley Martin illustrates the need for better palliative care in New Zealand.

“This trial demonstrated many times the need for New Zealand to focus on ensuring that all people who need quality hospice or palliative care have access,” Mr Kelly said.

Lesley Martin was found guilty in March of attempting to murder her terminally ill mother Joy Martin who died in May 1999. The Dominion Post quoted [April 2] quoted member of pro-euthanasia group Exit New Zealand Bruce Corney as saying that some people called their 0900 number explaining they were in situations similar to where Lesley Martin was.

This is amidst a report in Sunday Star Times [April 4] that Martin has put on hold plans to write a second book based on other people’s stories of voluntary euthanasia.

Hospice New Zealand is running its National Awareness Campaign aimed at people with terminal illnesses and their families which has support from Health Minister Annette King. In order to advance knowledge and understanding of palliative care they are establishing a specialist research committee.

Health professionals throughout the country will receive caregiver’s booklets and general information brochures about Hospice New Zealand and hospice palliative care. These will be available to patients and their families.

The campaign is not only about pain management.

“We want people to know more about hospice services,” Mr Kelly says. “Hospices offer help for patients and families: everything from counselling, respite, bereavement, and spiritual and emotional needs. Some hospices even have art and music therapy for patients and their families.”

In rural areas there is a shortage of palliative care specialists which means the GP may have more responsibilities “that go beyond providing general care for people who are ill.

“That’s why many people rely on their GP not only for general health care but as a point of contact when or if they are terminally ill.

“If there is no hospice or hospital with a palliative care team the GP may be in the position of providing care to terminally ill people.”

Mr Kelly says it is important for GPs to have at least basic palliative care skills. AS well as knowing when to refer a patient to a palliative care specialist he should know how to speak with people about patients’ illnesses, like cancer, and should be able to provide appropriate medication to ease pain.

Doctor On Home Visit Discussing Health Of Senior Male Patient With Wife

The School of Medicine at the University of Otago appointed a first ever  Palliative Care Chair. Dr Rod MacLeod, formerly the medical director at Mary Potter Hospice in Wellington, will lead a small team of experienced researchers to identify the areas of palliative care that require study.

Dr MacLeod is interested in increasing palliative care awareness in the medical profession so that more young people will move into palliative medicine.

“Palliative care is not glamorous,” Hospice President Dalton Kelly says. “This is care for people who are dying or in some cases people who have palliative needs at earlier stages of their illness.

“It’s sometimes difficult for young people going to medical school to see themselves as palliative care doctors. But we hope that by raising awareness of hospice and palliative care more will understand that the number of cancer patients and the number of cancer deaths are increasing in New Zealand. We need good specialists to take care of all these people.”

Dr MacLeod says they will need to research the question of whether the needs of all New Zealanders are being met by hospice and palliative care services.

“We know, for instance,” he says, “there are difficulties for some people in assessing palliative care services. We want to conduct research on how that can be improved.”

There are 39 hospices in New Zealand. Most have a palliative care specialist on staff and several hospitals have palliative care teams, Mr Kelly says. He thinks district health boards could raise hospice funding from the current allotment of 50% to 70-75%, which would be more manageable for the hospices.

“We need the District Health Boards to understand and realize the significance of good palliative care and to increase funding,” Mr Kelly says.

By Peter Veugelaers.

Published 2004, Challenge Weekly.

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