Record for NSW palliative care petition prompts debate

DUBBO residents were among those who helped set a record for the number of signatures on a petition calling for more funding for palliative care in rural and regional New South Wales.

There were 59,864 signatures on the petition, including 4700 from the Western NSW?Local Health District.

So overwhelming was the response that it prompted a debate on the issue in NSW Parliament on Thursday.

The retired palliative care doctor who spearheaded the campaign, Wahroonga-based Dr Yvonne McMaster, described the debate as "wonderful".

"Even though it was the last day of sitting and the parliamentarians were very busy, there were a lot of members there and the gallery was packed," she said.

"Actually, it was more a bi-partisan consensus about the need for more funding than a debate."

Dr McMaster said she was particularly excited about comments by NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner, who told Parliament the government's newly-tabled palliative care plan and $35 million across four years for palliative care was "just a start".

"She didn't specify anything extra but it was a significant statement," she said.

Dr McMaster said Mrs Skinner was among speakers who talked about their commitment to palliative care.

She said a place was set aside in the chamber for a young man with motor neurone disease no longer able to speak or hold up his head.

"It was a reminder that although much of palliative care involves dealing with cancer patients, there are other terminal illnesses we are concerned with," she said.

Other speakers at the debate included Labor MPs Barbara Perry and Andrew McDonald, and Minister for Western NSW Kevin Humphries.

Mr Humphries and Dubbo MP Troy Grant were among the National Party members whom Dr McMaster met with the day before the debate.

"I met with twelve of them one at a time and handed them petitions showing them how many signatures were from their particular areas," Dr McMaster said.

"The (palliative care) nurses from each area had contacted me to tell me exactly what they needed in their areas and I was able to relay that to each MP."

The petition included 656 signatures from Dubbo, along with some from Bathurst (519), Orange (483), Gilgandra (459), Nyngan (178), Trundle (92), Narromine (87), Cobar (61) and Bourke (58).

Dr McMaster was also meant to meet with Premier Barry O'Farrell yesterday on the issue after he was called away from the debate at the last minute.

She will now take up a place on the NSW government's newly-established network for palliative care that will help plan, implement and evaluate a comprehensive palliative care model.

angela.clutterbuck@ruralpress.com

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