Access to palliative care for people with life-limiting cancer

10 April 2017 | Kelly Williams

 Kerry Moss and Stephanie Ewing

Kerry Moss and her daughter Stephanie Ewing

Life is full of inequities based on our postcodes but when it comes to specialist palliative care, nobody should miss out. The reality is, some people are denied life-enriching palliative care when it’s needed most because of a shortage of specialist palliative care across the state.

The latest data shows that New South Wales has 0.9 full time equivalent palliative care doctors per 100,000 people, which is less than recommended by the experts. There is also a shortage of palliative care nurses, with a rate of 10.8 full time equivalent nurses per 100,000 people – the lowest rate in Australia. *

“Anyone with cancer, and their loved ones, should be able to receive palliative care when and where they need it.” says Kelly Williams, Manager of Policy and Advocacy at Cancer Council New South Wales.

“We know that cancer patients with access to specialist palliative care are more likely to have an improved quality of life, including much better control of pain, symptoms and anxiety, plus fewer medical interventions, emergency department visits and hospital admissions.”

“Specialist palliative care can also help carers and reduce stress on families. We hear from patients and families throughout New South Wales that palliative care makes a huge difference in people’s lives.”

Culturally sensitive palliative care services are also vital. In particular we need culturally appropriate care that meets the needs of Aboriginal people facing cancer, and their families.


Certainty for patient, staff and families

For Kerry Moss‘ 22-year-old daughter Stephanie, who was enduring brain cancer, the experience of palliative care was mixed. While in palliative care at home Stephanie’s health deteriorated and she was admitted to a palliative care facility where she stayed until her death. Kerry says she would never speak ill of the standard of care Stephanie received but found it difficult to access specialist palliative care doctors on weekends. There were also other challenges.

“We were told often that the palliative care stay could be no longer than two weeks and that we may have to be discharged,” says Kerry.

“This anxiety about continuity of care was something I did not need and it sometimes distracted me from being completely present to Steph.”

“It’s important to recognise that palliative care is first and foremost about the patient but at the same time, it is also about the living.”

“Palliative care services are essential and we need more of them,” says Kerry.


Addressing gaps in palliative care in NSW

Palliative care means people can keep doing the things they love for as long as possible and that families can make the most of the time they have left. And it helps patients to be more comfortable and in less pain when they near the end of their life.

But many people are unable to access this specialist care and support because there aren’t enough palliative care doctors and nurses in NSW. And many Aboriginal people don’t have access to care appropriate for their cultural needs.

When someone has a terminal illness, they deserve the best possible palliative care, whenever and wherever it’s needed.


How you can help



Cancer Council are asking the NSW Government to fund an additional 139 palliative care doctors and nurses across the State and to meet the palliative care needs of Aboriginal communities.

Join our campaign now to end the shortage of palliative care in NSW.


More information

Find more information about advanced cancer and palliative care.

Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 Information and Support to speak to a specialist cancer professional.

Download our book Facing End of Life.

*Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Palliative care services in Australia 2016 – tranche 1.