Australia is one of the most successful multi-cultural countries in the world, resulting from continuous immigration for the last 70 years or so. Australia is home for people from almost 200 countries with more than one in five speaking a language other than English at home. Some people arrive in Australia seeking protection from conflict in their own country. They may seek protection as a refugee and in the meantime live in the community while awaiting the outcome of their asylum request. Drawing on a story of one asylum seeker, this paper describes some of the key considerations required in caring for an asylum seeker who is facing the end of their life, making recommendations for addressing their often-complex care needs.
On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization classified COVID-19, caused by Sars-CoV-2, as a pandemic. Although not much was known about the new virus, the first outbreaks in China and Italy showed that potentially a large number of people worldwide could fall critically ill in a short period of time. A shortage of ventilators and intensive care resources was expected in many countries, leading to concerns about restrictions of medical care and preventable deaths. In order to be prepared for this challenging situation, national triage guidance has been developed or adapted from former influenza pandemic guidelines in an increasing number of countries over the past few months. In this article, we provide a comparative analysis of triage recommendations from selected national and international professional societies, including Australia/New Zealand, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Pakistan, South Africa, Switzerland, the United States, and the International Society of Critical Care Medicine. We describe areas of consensus, including the importance of prognosis, patient will, transparency of the decision-making process, and psychosocial support for staff, as well as the role of justice and benefit maximization as core principles. We then probe areas of disagreement, such as the role of survival versus outcome, long-term versus short-term prognosis, the use of age and comorbidities as triage criteria, priority groups and potential tiebreakers such as 'lottery' or 'first come, first served'. Having explored a number of tensions in current guidance, we conclude with a suggestion for framework conditions that are clear, consistent and implementable. This analysis is intended to advance the ongoing debate regarding the fair allocation of limited resources and may be relevant for future policy-making.
BACKGROUND: This paper investigates the content of Australian policies that address withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment to analyse the guidance they provide to doctors about the allocation of resources.
METHODS: All publicly available non-institutional policies on withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment were identified, including codes of conduct and government and professional organization guidelines. The policies that referred to resource allocation were isolated and analysed using qualitative thematic analysis. Eight Australian policies addressed both withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment and resource allocation.
RESULTS: Four resource-related themes were identified: (1) doctors' ethical duties to consider resource allocation; (2) balancing ethical obligations to patient and society; (3) fair process and transparent resource allocation; and (4) legal guidance on distributive justice as a rationale to limit life-sustaining treatment.
CONCLUSION: Of the policies that addressed resource allocation, this review found broad agreement about the existence of doctors' duties to consider the stewardship of scarce resources in decision-making. However, there was disparity in the guidance about how to reconcile competing duties to patient and society. There is a need to better address the difficult and confronting issue of the role of scarce resources in decisions about life-sustaining treatment.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this project was to assess the value for money of a modified unit within a residential aged care facility (RACF) for people requiring palliative care at the end of life.
METHODS: A three-way comparison using a mixed-method costing was used to estimate the per day cost of the unit compared to care in a palliative care unit within a hospital and a standard RACF bed.
RESULTS: The cost of the unit was estimated at $242 per day (2015 Australian dollars). The palliative care hospital bed cost $1,664 per day. The cost of a standard RACF bed was $123 per day, indicating that an additional $120 per day is required to provide the higher level of care required by people with complex palliative care needs.
CONCLUSION: A modified RACF unit could provide substantial cost savings to the health budget for selected complex palliative care patients.
Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the clinical, economic and personal impacts of the nurse practitioner-led Sydney Adventist Hospital Community Palliative Care Service (SanCPCS)
Methods: Parallel economic analysis of usual care was conducted prospectively with patients from the enhanced SanCPCS. A convenient retrospective sample from the initial service was used to determine the impact of the enhanced service on patient care. A time series survey was used with patients and carers from within the expanded service group in order to measure patient outcomes and values as they approached death. Results: Patients of the SanCPCS were less likely to die in hospital and had fewer hospital admissions. In addition, the service halved the estimated hospitalisation cost per patient, but the length of hospital stay was not affected by the service. The SanCPCS was more beneficial for women in terms of fewer hospital admissions and lower costs. Patients’ choices regarding place of care and death and what was ‘important’ to them changed over time. For instance, patients tended to prefer being at home as they approached death, and being pain free doubled in importance.
Conclusions: Nurse practitioner-led community palliative care services have the potential to result in significant economic and personal benefits for patients and their families in need of such care. What is known about the topic? National trends show an emphasis on community services with the aim of promoting and supporting the choice of dying at home, and this coincides with drives to reduce hospital costs and length of stay. Community-based palliative care services may offer substantial economic and clinical benefits. What does this paper add? The SanCPCS was the first nurse practitioner-led community-based palliative care service in Australia. The expansion of this service led to significantly fewer admissions and deaths in hospital, and halved the estimated hospitalisation cost per patient. What are implications for practitioners? Nurse practitioner-led models for care in the out-patient or community setting are a logical direction for palliative services through the engagement of specialised providers uniquely trained to support, nurture, guide and educate patients and their carers.
Context: Patients with advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can develop increasing breathlessness, which can persist despite optimal medical management—refractory breathlessness. Management can be challenging for all clinicians and requires a broad approach that includes optimization of disease directed therapies, non-pharmacological strategies to manage breathlessness and for some patients opioids.
Objectives: To explore the approaches to breathlessness management and palliative care undertaken by Australian General Practitioners (GP) for patients with severe COPD and refractory breathlessness.
Methods: A case-vignette based survey was conducted with Australian GPs to determine their approaches to breathlessness management and palliative care in COPD.
Results: Of the 137 GPs, 66% recommended commencing an additional medication to manage refractory breathlessness. Thirty-eight GPs (28%) recommended opioids and 26 (19%) recommended guideline discordant treatments. Two-thirds of GPs had concerns regarding the use of opioids in COPD. Half (55%) of GPs were comfortable providing general palliative care to patients with COPD and 62 (45%) had referred patients with COPD to specialist palliative care services. Most respondents wanted further training to manage severe COPD and severe chronic breathlessness.
Conclusion: Most GPs recognized and were willing to add specific treatments for severe chronic breathlessness. However, experience prescribing opioids for severe chronic breathlessness was low, with many practitioners holding significant concerns regarding adverse effects. Many GPs are uncomfortable offering a palliative approach to their COPD patients, yet these patients are not routinely referred to specialist palliative care services despite their immense needs. GPs therefore desire education and support to overcome these barriers.
BACKGROUND: Although Motor Neurone Disease (MND) caregivers are most challenged physically and psychologically, there is a paucity of population-based research to investigate the impact of bereavement, unmet needs, range of supports, and their helpfulness as perceived by bereaved MND caregivers.
Methods: An anonymous national population-based cross-sectional postal and online survey of bereavement experiences of family caregivers who lost a relative/friend to MND in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Recruitment was through all MND Associations in Australia.
Results: 393 valid responses were received (31% response rate). Bereaved caregiver deterioration in physical (31%) and mental health (42%) were common. Approximately 40% did not feel their support needs were met. Perceived insufficiency of support was higher for caregivers at high bereavement risk (63%) and was associated with a significant worsening of their mental and physical health. The majority accessed support from family and friends followed by MND Associations, GPs, and funeral providers. Informal supports were reported to be the most helpful. Sources of professional help were the least used and they were perceived to be the least helpful.
Conclusions: This study highlights the need for a new and enhanced approach to MND bereavement care involving a caregiver risk and needs assessment as a basis for a tailored "goodness of fit" support plan. This approach requires continuity of care, more resources, formal plans, and enhanced training for professionals, as well as optimizing community capacity. MND Associations are well-positioned to support affected families before and after bereavement but may require additional training and resources to fulfill this role.
OBJECTIVE: The implementation of medical aid-in-dying (MAID) poses new challenges for clinical communication and counseling. Among these, health care providers must consider whether to initiate a discussion of MAID with eligible patients who do not directly ask about it. Norms and policies concerning this issue vary tremendously across jurisdictions where MAID is legally authorized, reflecting divergent assumptions about patients' rights to information about end-of-life options and the purpose and potential harms of clinical disclosure.
METHOD: This discussion forum essay draws on informed consent doctrine to analyze two policies concerning clinical communication about MAID: the legal prohibition against provider-initiated discussions of MAID in Victoria, Australia, and the Canadian Association of MAID Assessors and Providers (CAMAP) position that providers have an ethical and professional responsibility to inform eligible patients about MAID.
CONCLUSIONS: Informed consent requires that clinicians strike a balance between minimizing potential harms to patients caused by initiating discussions of MAID and the imperative to inform and counsel patients about all of their legally available medical options.
PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Clinicians should be aware of both the importance of communication as a tool to inform patients and the potential for clinical language to cause harm to or to unduly influence patients.
AIM: To examine whether nurses' location of employment, demographics, or training influences their perceptions of what constitutes optimal care for dying patients in hospital.
DESIGN: Questionnaire-based, cross-sectional study.
METHODS: Between December 2016-June 2018, 582 registered or enrolled nurses from Australia (N = 153), South Korea (N = 241), and Hong Kong (N = 188) employed in a variety of hospital care units rated the extent to which they agreed with 29 indicators of optimal end-of-life care across four domains: patient, family, healthcare team, and healthcare system. Latent class analysis identified classes of respondents with similar responses.
RESULTS: Top five indicators rated by participants included: 'physical symptoms managed well'; 'private rooms and unlimited visiting hours'; 'spend as much time with the patient as families wish'; 'end-of-life care documents stored well and easily accessed' and 'families know and follow patient's wishes'. Four latent classes were generated: 'Whole system/holistic' (Class 1); 'Patient/provider-dominated' (Class 2); 'Family-dominated' (Class 3) and 'System-dominated' (Class 4). Class 1 had the highest proportion of nurses responding positively for all indicators. Location was an important correlate of perceptions, even after controlling for individual characteristics.
CONCLUSION: Nurses' perceptions of optimal end-of-life care are associated with location, but perhaps not in the direction that stereotypes would suggest. Findings highlight the importance of developing and implementing location-specific approaches to optimize end-of-life care in hospitals.
IMPACT: The findings may be useful to guide education and policy initiatives in Asian and Western countries that stress that end-of-life care is more than symptom management. Indicators can be used to collect data that help quantify differences between optimal care and the care actually being delivered, thereby determining where improvements might be made.
This column discusses the potential for conflict between the Federal laws forbidding the use of telecommunications to spread "suicide-related materials" and the laws in Victoria and Western Australia which have legalised forms of voluntary assisted dying. The column argues that the effect of the State laws is to differentiate the legal forms of voluntary assisted dying from suicide and assisted suicide, with the effect that Federal prohibitions do not apply to telecommunications between health practitioners and their patients regarding voluntary assisted dying.
In 2017, Victoria became the first state in Australia to pass legislation permitting voluntary assisted dying. Under this law, only those people who are near the end of their lives may access voluntary assisted dying, and because many of these people require nursing care to manage the progression of their illness or their symptoms, it will invariably have an impact on nursing practice. The Victorian law includes a series of procedural steps as safeguards to ensure that the law operates as intended. To support people who choose voluntary assisted dying and to practice safely within boundaries of the law, nurses must be aware of these requirements and how they operate. However, there are often gaps in nurses' legal knowledge. This was demonstrated in an article that aimed to inform nurses about the operation of Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 (Vic) but contained several errors and misstatements of the law. Our article corrects these errors and discusses how the law is intended to be applied by revisiting the fictional case of Chloe - a woman with a terminal illness who is seeking voluntary assisted dying. As the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 (Vic) also protects nurses from liability if they act in accordance with its provisions, we conclude that sound knowledge and understanding of its operation support nurses to provide the safe, comprehensive and compassionate care their patients deserve at the end of life.
BACKGROUND: The majority of expected deaths in high income countries occur in hospital where optimal palliative care cannot be assured. In addition, a large number of patients with palliative care needs receive inpatient care in their last year of life. International research has identified domains of inpatient care that patients and carers perceive to be important, but concrete examples of how these might be operationalised are scarce, and few studies conducted in the southern hemisphere.
AIM: To seek the perspectives of Australian patients living with palliative care needs about their recent hospitalisation experiences to determine the relevance of domains noted internationally to be important for optimal inpatient palliative care and how these can be operationalised.
DESIGN: An exploratory qualitative study using semi-structured interviews.
SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: Participants were recruited through five hospitals in New South Wales, Australia.
RESULTS: Twenty-one participants took part. Results confirmed and added depth of understanding to domains previously identified as important for optimal hospital palliative care, including: Effective communication and shared decision making; Expert care; Adequate environment for care; Family involvement in care provision; Financial affairs; Maintenance of sense of self/identity; Minimising burden; Respectful and compassionate care; Trust and confidence in clinicians and Maintenance of patient safety. Two additional domains were noted to be important: Nutritional needs; and Access to medical and nursing specialists.
CONCLUSIONS: Taking a person-centred focus has provided a deeper understanding of how to strengthen inpatient palliative care practices. Future work is needed to translate the body of evidence on patient priorities into policy reforms and practice points.
BACKGROUND: Indigenous Australians diagnosed with cancer have substantially higher cancer mortality rates compared with non-Indigenous Australians, yet there is a paucity of information about their end-of-life service utilisation and supportive care needs.
PURPOSE: To describe the service utilisation and supportive care needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with cancer at end-of-life.
METHOD: Hospital admission data were linked to self-reported data from a study of Indigenous cancer patients from Queensland, Australia during the last year of their life. Needs were assessed by the Supportive Care Needs Assessment Tool for Indigenous Cancer Patients which measures 26 need items across 4 domains (physical/psychological; hospital care; information/communication; practical/cultural). A descriptive analysis of health service utilisation and unmet needs was conducted.
RESULTS: In total, 58 Indigenous cancer patients were included in this analysis. All patients had at least one hospital admission within the last year of their life. Most hospital admissions occurred through emergency (38%) and outpatient (31%) departments and were for acute care (85%). Palliative care represented 14% of admissions and 78% died in hospital. Approximately half (48%) did not report any unmet needs. The most frequently reported moderate-to-high unmet need items were worry about the treatment results (17%), money worries (16%) and anxiety (16%).
CONCLUSIONS: Utilisation of palliative care services that manage a full range of physical and psychosocial needs was low. Addressing worries about treatment results, finances and generalised anxiety are priorities in this population.
OBJECTIVES: Family meetings (FMs) between clinicians, patients and family are recommended as a valuable communication and care planning method in the delivery of palliative care. However, there is a dearth of knowledge regarding FM characteristics, with few studies describing the prevalence, circumstances and content of FMs. The aims of this study were to: (1) measure the prevalence of FMs, (2) examine circumstance and timing of FMs, and (3) explore the content of FMs.
METHODS: A retrospective medical record audit was conducted of 200 patients who died in an Australian hospital of an expected death from advanced disease. Details of FMs were collected using an audit tool, along with patient demographics and admission data.
RESULTS: 33 patients (16.5%) had at least one FM during their inpatient stay. The majority of FMs occurred for patients admitted to an inpatient palliative care unit (59.5%) and were most commonly facilitated by doctors (81.0%). Patient attendance was frequent (40.5%). FM content fell into six categories: medical information, supportive communication behaviours of clinicians, psychosocial support for patients and families, end-of-life discussions, discharge planning and administrative arrangements.
CONCLUSIONS: Despite the benefits FMs confer, FMs appear to be infrequently used at the end of life. When FMs are used, there is a strong medical focus on both facilitation and content. Available FM documentation tools also appear to be underused. Clinicians are encouraged to have a greater understanding of FMs to optimise their use and adopt a proactive and structured approach to the conduct and documentation of FMs.
Evidence to support the use of antipsychotic medications for the management of delirium symptoms remains limited. The primary objective of this study was to compare the effect of antipsychotic and non-antipsychotic treatments for delirium symptoms among palliative care inpatients. Secondary outcomes were use of midazolam and overall survival. This involved retrospective analysis of medical records (November 2018 to April 2019) for adult palliative care patients diagnosed with delirium at an Australian tertiary hospital. NuDESC was used to assess symptoms daily from baseline to Day 3. All 65 patients (mean age 73.5 ± 13.7 years, 48% female, 59% with cancer) included received standard care which included management of underlying causes of delirium symptoms, of which 17 received additional treatment using antipsychotic medications. Forty-eight did not receive any antipsychotic medication. An absolute reduction in NuDESC score was observed in the group that did not receive additional treatment using antipsychotics (by 1.37 units, 95% CI 0.79–1.95, p < 0.0001). A significantly higher proportion of midazolam use (n = 9, 53% versus n = 2, 4%, p < 0.001) and shorter median survival (13 days versus 26 days, p = 0.03) was observed in the group of patients that received antipsychotics. The use of antipsychotic medications in addition to standard treatments targeting underlying precipitants did not lead to a significant improvement in delirium symptoms and was associated with a greater midazolam use and lower median duration of survival. Individualized treatment of underlying causes still appears to be essential in the management of delirium in patients receiving palliative care.
BACKGROUND: Hospitalisation rates for the older population have been increasing with end-of-life care becoming a more medicalised and costly experience. There is evidence that some of these patients received non-beneficial treatment during their final hospitalisation with a third of the non-beneficial treatment duration spent in intensive care units. This study aims to increase appropriate care and treatment decisions and pathways for older patients at the end of life in Australia. This study will implement and evaluate a prospective feedback loop and tailored clinical response intervention at three hospitals in Queensland, Australia.
METHODS: A stepped-wedge cluster randomised trial will be conducted with up to 21 clinical teams in three acute hospitals over 70 weeks. The study involves clinical teams providing care to patients aged 75 years or older, who are prospectively identified to be at risk of non-beneficial treatment using two validated tools for detecting death and deterioration risks. The intervention's feedback loop will provide the teams with a summary of these patients' risk profiles as a stimulus for a tailored clinical response in the intervention phase. The Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research will be used to inform the intervention's implementation and process evaluation. The study will determine the impact of the intervention on patient outcomes related to appropriate care and treatment at the end of life in hospitals, as well as the associated healthcare resource use and costs. The primary outcome is the proportion of patients who are admitted to intensive care units. A process evaluation will be carried out to assess the implementation, mechanisms of impact, and contextual barriers and enablers of the intervention.
DISCUSSION: This intervention is expected to have a positive impact on the care of older patients near the end of life, specifically to improve clinical decision-making about treatment pathways and what constitutes appropriate care for these patients. These will reduce the incidence of non-beneficial treatment, and improve the efficiency of hospital resources and quality of care. The process evaluation results will be useful to inform subsequent intervention implementation at other hospitals.
Objective: The prevalence of life-limiting conditions in children in Australia is unknown; such data are needed to inform health service planning for paediatric palliative care. The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of life-limiting conditions for children and young people aged 0-21 years living in Queensland, Australia.
Methods: An observational study using linked administrative health data from the 2011 and 2016 calendar years was performed for all individuals with an International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision Australian Modification code relating to a life-limiting condition eligible for palliative care recorded against an admission to a public or private hospital and health service provider in Queensland or against a cause or underlying cause of death in the Queensland Registrar General Deaths.
Results: The overall prevalence of life-limiting conditions per 10000 population increased from 35.2 (95% confidence interval (CI) 34.2-36.2) in 2011 to 43.2 (95% CI 42.1-44.4) in 2016. This increase in prevalence was greatest for children <1 year of age and for those who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
Conclusion: This study has estimated the prevalence of life-limiting conditions for children and young people aged 0-21 years living in Queensland. Estimation of the number of children and young people with life-limiting conditions can inform health service planning for paediatric palliative care in Queensland. Future research is needed to identify the number of children and young people with life-limiting conditions who do not have an admitted episode. What is known about the topic? Data from the UK indicate that the prevalence of life-limiting conditions among children and young people is increasing. However, such data are not available for the Australian population. Because prevalence data can be affected by population characteristics, it is important to establish country-specific epidemiological data rather than extrapolating data from other countries. Country-specific data can inform health planners and policy makers of the scale of the problem within a geographical and demographic context. This is essential for Australia given the diverse geographical and demographic characteristics and specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. What does this paper add? This study is the first to provide an estimate of the prevalence of life-limiting conditions in children and young people aged 0-21 years in Queensland. Estimates include the prevalence of life-limiting conditions in children and young people who identify as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent. What are the implications for practitioners? The prevalence of life-limiting conditions in Queensland is greater than previously thought. There is a need to grow both a generalist and specialist paediatric palliative care workforce in response to this increasing prevalence. The estimates of prevalence proportions from this study provide the foundation on which future health service activities can be built because they provide country-specific clinical and demographic characteristics.
In November 2017, the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Act was passed enabling people with a progressive terminal illness to end their life voluntarily. Heated debate abounded including, to some extent within palliative care, which was also challenged with developing processes around the legislation enactment.
OBJECTIVE: In response, the lead author convened a series of meetings of palliative care physicians: 1. To share ideas about preparations being undertaken within services; and 2. To re-establish professional cohesion following the divide that the legislation had presented.
DESIGN: Setting/Participants: A series of three closed meetings were held between the legislation passage and its implementation, with all Victorian palliative care physicians invited to attend. Meetings were facilitated by an experienced psychiatrist from outside the field.
RESULTS: These meetings proved very valuable as physicians collectively sought to define and respond to challenges, simultaneously reflecting on the personal and professional implications for individuals and the field. Key areas raised including gauging institutional 'readiness' for the legislation through staff surveys; the educational role of palliative care staff of the legislation implications; communication skills training; the role (if any) of palliative care in the processes of VAD; and the perceptions of palliative care itself in health services and the community. It was during the processes of discussing challenges and sharing solutions that the attendees appeared to re-affirm their professional interconnections. A description of the key elements of these discussions may be useful to others who may yet face similar circumstances with the introduction of VAD legislation.
Death doulas (DD) are working with people at the end of life in varied roles with more clarity needed around their role and place within the health and social care systems. The aim of this work is to explore the DD role in end-of-life care from the perspective of DDs. A sub-group of 20 DDs from a larger quantitative survey participated in semi-structured telephone Skype or Zoom interviews. Interview data were analysed using thematic analysis. Seven themes emerged from the qualitative analysis: what a DD offers, what a DD does, challenges and barriers, occupational preferences, family support, contract of service/fee and regulation. There is a general perception that healthcare professionals (HCP) do not understand what it is that DDs do; thus, the current study has helped to demystify the DD role and potentially reduce suspicion. The lack of a DD business model sees inconsistencies in what services each DD offers and what patients and families can expect. End of life is complex and confusing for patients and families and there is a need to further explore the DD role and how it can work when there are many inconsistencies in working practice. More research is required to look at the interplay among DDs, HCPs and palliative care volunteers in addressing the gaps in care provision and how these relationships might be more seamlessly managed.
With perpetual research, management refinement and increasing survivorship, cancer care is steadily evolving into a chronic disease model. Rehabilitation Physicians are quite accustomed to managing chronic conditions, yet, in Australia, Cancer Rehabilitation remains under-explored. Palliative Care Physicians, along with Rehabilitationists, are true Generalists, who focus on the whole patient and their social context, in addition to the diseased organ system. This, together with Palliative Care's expertise in managing the panoply of troubling symptoms that beset patients with malignancy, makes them natural allies in the comprehensive management of this patient group from the moment of diagnosis. This paper will explore the under-recognized and under-utilized parallels and synergies between the two specialties as well as identifying potential challenges and areas for future growth.