Rural end-of-life woes reach NSW Parliament

Retired palliative care doctor Yvonne McMaster has spearheaded a campaign to increase funding for palliative care in rural and regional NSW.  
Photo contributed
Retired palliative care doctor Yvonne McMaster has spearheaded a campaign to increase funding for palliative care in rural and regional NSW. Photo contributed

SIGNATURES from Dubbo and surrounds are on their way to NSW Parliament on a petition calling for more funding for palliative care.

The petition is part of a campaign by a Wahroonga-based retired palliative care doctor who has made it her mission to get a better deal for people needing end-of-life care in rural and regional New South Wales.

Dr Yvonne McMaster has promised to make sure the gallery at NSW Parliament is full of campaign supporters when the issue is debated next week.

The debate has been set down for Thursday after qualifying under Premier Barry O'Farrell's so-called people's petition pledge, where a petition that attracted more than 10,000 signatures was guaranteed debate in the NSW Legislative Assembly.

The petition Dr McMaster spearheaded has attracted more than 54,000 signatures, including 1319 from Dubbo.

Dr McMaster, who visited Dubbo for last month's NSW Palliative Care Conference, said she had nothing but praise for local palliative care staff but said they needed more resources to do what they do.

She said while the state government's NSW Palliative Care Plan 2012-2016 contained information about palliative care needs in NSW she did not believe additional funding earmarked for palliative care ($35 million over four years) would be enough to fill those needs.

"Everyone knows that this is nowhere near enough to provide equitable care for people in rural areas (and) the west is worse served than any other part of the state of NSW."

Dr McMaster said it was a "scandal" that most of NSW had no 24/7 cover for palliative care and the families of patients.

A map contained in the NSW Palliative Care Plan 2012-2016 also indicated Western NSW and Far West NSW had no direct access to a specialist palliative care physician.

"Families have to resort to calling the ambulance to get help out of hours, then it is the long, uncomfortable trip to hospital, the wait in emergency and non-specialised care. This is not right in a civilized society," Dr McMaster said.

She said if people were to be encouraged to stay at home at the end of their lives, there had to be help for them to do so.

"If there are no family members available we have to have community care workers to help," she said.

"It is much cheaper than having someone in hospital. At the moment we have a situation where people are approaching death, their relatives don't know what to do and their relatives can't call someone around the clock. It's bizarre."

Following on from the release of its palliative care plan, the NSW government last week announced it was seeking proposals for services to expand community-based palliative care across the state to enable people living with a terminal condition to receive palliative care and support in their place of choice.

Meanwhile Dr McMaster said she hoped the debate would elevate the importance of palliative care on the government's agenda, which the state had "under-spent on for years".

"I'm hoping the health minister will say, well, the money we've put forward is not enough and we'll take into account that the community cares and it will be a priority for me to do something about that."


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