Tuesday 10 November 2015
Hansard of the Legislative Council


Palliative Care Facilities in Launceston



Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, the last time I spoke about palliative care in a special interest speech was in June 2013.  I made the point that we, in this House, should be concerned about the provision of palliative care for both community and personal reasons.  I quoted medical statistics that most Tasmanians beyond the age of 60 are likely to suffer morbidity about every five years.  Some of us are likely to suffer heart problems, cancer, kidney or liver disease and more.  Some of us are likely to face a terminal illness and need palliative care.
Two years later the situation has not changed, nor has the lack of hospice facilities in and around Launceston improved sufficiently, although there might be some light at the end of the tunnel, which I will explain shortly.  In my previous speech I lamented the closure of Philip Oakden House, which served the northern community well, with three public and three private beds.  I remember that campaign well, by Dr Lachlan Hardy-Wilson, to establish that facility at The Manor, along with Dr John Morris.  I interviewed Dr Lachlan Hardy-Wilson quite a few times on ABC Radio about that situation.  When I spoke two years ago, Launceston had only four palliative care beds in Calvary hospital. 
Hospital palliative care is inferior to hospice palliative care for numerous reasons.  For a start, hospice nursing is very different from acute care hospital nursing.  Hospice patients need a quiet, non-formal routine of nursing, and it is unfair to ask hospital nurses to adapt to those requirements.  Unlike hospitals, a hospice provides an environment like a home where people can easily visit 24 hours a day, and families, and even pets, can come and go.  Ideally, it should be all on ground level with pleasant garden surroundings, both for patients and visitors. 
Concerns about the lack of hospice care in the north led some years ago to the formation of a group called Friends of the Northern Hospice, which immediately attracted a lot of public support.  The group is very much aware that the need for hospice palliative care in Tasmania is likely to increase dramatically in the coming years.  Friends of Northern Hospice has suggested a dedicated, 10-bed hospice near the Launceston General Hospital and serviced by the LGH.  Seven beds would be publicly funded and three private.  That dream could be getting closer with a $100 000 study into ways to improve end-of-life care in northern Tasmania.  The Government intends the study to determine the need for a dedicated hospice service in the north, to examine potential hospice models, and to evaluate unmet and future demand for a hospice service.  It is hoped the study will be completed by January.
The chair of Friends of Northern Hospice, Barb Baker, says she hopes the study will eventuate in the return of a northern hospice service.  The last palliative care report in 2004 found that only half the palliative care beds needed were available, and only 52 per cent of people requiring end-of-life services were actually receiving them.  That was the situation in 2004, and it is considerably worse now.  Funding allocated by the previous federal government for the Better Access to Palliative Care scheme ends in June next year, and there is no guarantee that it will be renewed.  More than $30 million of this funding went to district nurses to set up the Hospice@Home project , which has enabled about 100 people to be supported to die at home. 

However, many people do not want to die at home, especially younger people, if family members have to go on living in the family home.  Partners often have to leave work to care for the patient.  A homeā€‘like ground floor hospice would provide choice.  It would cost significantly less than acute hospital care, with better outcomes for patients and their families.  A patient's GP would be able to continue care. 
I ask you, Mr President, and other members, would you want to die with a terminal illness in a fourth floor hospital ward where the whole nursing structure is to get you well and out of there, or would you prefer to be in a bed at ground level surrounded with gardens and flowers, with nursing staff to make you comfortable and relaxed with you all knowing that you only have a short time to enjoy the rest of your life?  I think it is a no-brainer.