A lack of palliative care beds in Gippsland means terminally ill patients may be missing out on vital early care, a palliative care co-ordinator has warned.

“We should be picking them up a lot earlier, rather than in just the end stages of care,” Megan Daley, palliative care co-ordinator at Kooweerup Regional Health Service, said.

The Kooweerup service has only one bed dedicated to palliative care, with the rest of the beds used for that purpose actually aged care beds.

Daley says that if palliative care demand increased regional services would not be able to cope.

In Gippsland there are only 11 government-funded beds, plus some community-funded beds, Daley says.

Many other palliative care services are underfunded, a spokesperson from Palliative Care Australia, an industry advisory body claims.

“Palliative care across Australia is underfunded and has been for some time,” they said. “There is a growing need for care at the end of life, which needs a lot of resources. The demand is going to increase as the population ages.”

Palliative care has “been neglected and not well understood”. It needs to be seen as being a part of the whole health care system, rather than just a specialist area, the organisation says.

Demand for palliative care services in the state is expected to grow by 4.6% over the next 12 months, especially in regional areas such as Kooweerup, Palliative Care Victoria said in a recent media release.

The Kooweerup service, which has only one part-time staff member to oversee its nurses, works with other local palliative care services to provide home-based care. “If community nurses can keep them at home, if that is what they wish, it works out better for everyone,” Daley said.

She says its lack of government funding is because it is not a full-sized unit, but it has applied for Department of Health funding for 12 palliative care beds for 2012. Currently it redirects existing funds to pay palliative staff wages.

Peter Fray

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