Gaps in palliative care hurting patients, increasing healthcare costs: report

Click to play video: 'Palliative care in Canada coming up short'
Palliative care in Canada coming up short
WATCH: The Canadian Cancer Society says end of life care is not available to all Canadians and many are falling through the cracks at a time when they need compassionate care. Jacques Bourbeau looks at the effect and how things need to change – Jan 12, 2016

Canada’s palliative care system is in desperate need of attention, leaving patients in the lurch and wasting money, according to a new report examining end-of-life care.

Using a patchwork of data from across the country, the Canadian Cancer Society has identified major areas of weakness and made a host of recommendations to get the system in better shape.

READ MORE: Access to palliative care needed for all those nearing end of life, says report

“The fact that we’re letting critically-ill Canadians fall through the cracks is a shocking thing to see,” said Gabriel Miller, director of public issues at the Canadian Cancer Society.

“It feels so contrary to the promise that we all think that our system makes to us as Canadians: that we’ll have care that we can afford when we need it.”

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The report says there are significant gaps in the system, leaving some Canadians lacking the care they deserve, while the inefficiencies increase healthcare costs.

WATCH: The Canadian Cancer Society says this country’s system is far from equal when it comes to palliative care. Some patients have access to fantastic hospice care while other just don’t. Heather Yourex-West reports.

Click to play video: '‘Do I think it’s going to be available to me? No’: Palliative care unavailable to all cancer patients'
‘Do I think it’s going to be available to me? No’: Palliative care unavailable to all cancer patients

Palliative care is not just about minimizing pain and suffering but also about respecting a person’s dying wishes. Often that means care outside of a hospital room, but that is out of reach for many.

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READ MORE: Halifax’s first palliative care hospice one step closer to reality

“The biggest gap in our system is in the care available to people outside of hospitals. Our system is built around delivering services inside hospitals, which are covered by our public health system,” said Miller.

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“But the problem is, in the case of palliative care, oftentimes care would be best provided at home or in hospice, or some other kind of community facility.”

These options allow patients to be closer to family and friends in their final days, and also come at a much lower cost than in hospitals.

The report’s findings are especially concerning considering Canada’s aging population.

READ MORE: Aging population contributing to more cases of Alzheimer’s, Dementia

“Canadians have a huge amount at stake,” said Miller, adding that new cancer cases are set to increase by 40 per cent over the next 15 years.

“That’s going to place a huge demand on the system for palliative care, for support for family caregivers. And we need to quickly take action to provide care in a way that meets their needs more effectively but also in a way that’s far more affordable for the health system.”

The reports recommends:

  • Palliative services be made a right, with new legislation enacted to guarantee universal access;
  • National palliative care standards be developed and implemented;
  • Additional investments made in homecare expansion and training of health providers in the area of palliative care;
  • Increased support for patients and family caregivers.

Canadians can do their part by calling on government to improve the system, Miller said.

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Meanwhile, it’s wise for patients to be prepared by discussing the issue of end of life care with family and physicians, as well as complete an advanced care plan.

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