Someone living with a disability, mental illness or in prison is just as entitled to receive quality care at the end of their life as any other member of the population, Catholic Health Australia (CHA) has argued in its submission to a Senate Inquiry into palliative care.
While recognising that caring for people in those groups presents a range of challenges, CHA says that doesn't mean society can abdicate responsibility for caring for those who are most in need, most marginalised and most disadvantaged.
"There are many areas of life where palliative care service provision to the vulnerable or marginalised is inadequate. That is simply not acceptable," said CHA chief executive officer Martin Laverty.
"In rural and remote communities, in Indigenous communities, in paediatrics and in culturally and linguistically diverse populations we find people not being appropriately treated towards the end of their lives. These people deserve better."
But CHA's submission focussed on the needs of people with disabilities, mental health conditions and those in prison.
"Care for people on the margins of society gets to the heart of what Catholic health and aged care was created to deliver," Mr Laverty said.
"We recognise that the complex nature of support required for people who are in prisons, mental health facilities and psychiatric centres will necessitate specialist palliative care, but that doesn't change the fact that Australians are entitled to receive that care – and receive it to a high standard. We, as a country, need to continue to do more to ensure that where someone lives doesn't have a negative impact on the level of care they receive."
Catholic Health Australia outlined a roadmap for how governments and non-government organisations can improve the quality of – and ease of access to – palliative care services in Australia.
Other issues Catholic Health Australia said must be addressed include the current lack of national standards for people approaching the end of life, the need for additional investment in specialist palliative care services, the need for greater integration of palliative care into other areas of health service delivery and a general lack of understanding of what constitutes palliative care.
"There is much work to be done, but we believe the roadmap we have outlined goes some way to providing a way forward, rather than simply giving a litany of shortcomings," Mr Laverty said.
Catholic Health Australia's submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs can be found on the Submissions page of the CHA website, www.cha.org.au