In 2011 we started a campaign to have palliative care funds restored for palliative care in the northern Sydney. Our petition also asked the NSW government to improve services throughout NSW. We collected over 24,000 signatures. The Government responded by restoring funds to northern Sydney and committing to increasing palliative care services across the state. However the June 2012 State Budget only allocated an additional $5M to palliative care.
We were told that this was generous, given the current fiscal stringencies but the Australian Institute for Health & Welfare (AIHW) 2012 report showed that compared with the average of the other states, NSW is 41 palliative care specialists and 301 specialist palliative care nurses short!
It was clear that without major community pressure nothing would change. This campaign for more funding began on June 30 2012 with a petition asking that the State Government to provide all the palliative care services which the community of NSW needs. By the time of the debate in Parliament on November 22 we had collect 59,864 signatures.
All five speakers on both sides of Parliament spoke in favor of palliative care. The Health Minister said that she took note of the community concern and that “the Government would do much more”. She drew attention to her newly announced “NSW Government Plan to improve access to palliative care 2012-2016.”
The Government has now allocated $35M over four years (that is $8.75M a year including the $5M already on the table) and has decided to go to tender to find organisations which could use this to provide some of the palliative care services which are so greatly needed. That tender process is underway. Many are sceptical about how this will integrate with current services. We have also discovered that if we compare NSW’s PC funding with Victoria’s we should have an additional $70M annually!
Sadly, I believe that without continued community pressure on the Government, the whole thing will fizzle. A new electoral cycle, more fiscal stringency and other, louder demands on the state’s coffers will mean that we, the community, will have our needs forgotten unless we keep palliative care at the forefront of their minds for some time to come.
To that end we are still collecting signatures. Already 2730 have come in since the debate. When I have another 10,000 I will again present them to Barry O’Farrell. Maybe the count will reach 100,000 before the end of 2013. If you live in NSW and would like to sign the petition please email me on email@example.com or download the petition here and start collecting signatures.
Palliative care now has a Clinical Network in the Agency for Clinical Innovation (ACI). Anyone who is interested in palliative care can join. See Latest News for more information and contact details. I am very pleased to be on the executive committee where I will be advocating for more funding and better provision of palliative care services all over NSW.
I met with the State Treasurer and his Senior Advisor on 20 February 2012. I took along Dr Tony Ireland, once a palliative care specialist, now a data analyst. Tony had prepared the business case for better funding for palliative care. This showed that funding palliative care adequately would provide very substantial savings to the government through more efficient hospital use. The Treasurer, Mike Baird was most interested in the figures and encouraged us to continue with our efforts. We felt most encouraged by his attitude.
I will be stirring and pushing in every nook and cranny of bureaucracy, politics and the media as well as I possibly can.
Early in February I visited the Bega Valley where a single palliative care nurse employed for only 20 hours a week looks after a very wide-spread population of 34,000. They now have a Palliative Care Collective which is advocating for a much improved service and the Local Member, Andrew Constance gave a Private Member’s Statement to Parliament on 20 February about the issue.
Your input and views are very important. Feel free to email me and start a conversation. Together we can really change things. More signatures would really help.
Dr Yvonne McMaster
Retired palliative care doctor and now palliative care campaigner