Dr Philip Lee, former palliative care director for the Western Sydney Local Health District, is lobbying State Parliament and health officials alongside cancer patient advocates for the reinstatement of a dedicated acute palliative care unit at Westmead Hospital.

The volunteer palliative care advocate said the lack of a dedicated unit and appropriate staff had resulted in an inability to take over the care of complex end of life patients and also resulted in a lack of single rooms and quiet meeting rooms for families and carers.

“It is not unusual (now) for a dying patient to be moved from a single room to make room for a patient with multi-resistant infection,” Dr Lee said.

James Butler from the Western Sydney Cancer Advocacy Network said: “As an advocate for cancer patients I have spent the past six years trying to get a dedicated palliative care unit at Westmead Hospital.

“There used to be one. You would think the redevelopment of the hospital would have re-established this specialised unit but it hasn’t, despite assurances from management.

“It is very distressing to hear of very sick patients having to spend their last days in a general ward. Being so close to someone at the end of their life is also not good for the other patients in the ward. Palliative care patients are dying all over the hospital in situations not suitable for dying people.”

He said there were many reasons terminally ill patients could not be cared for at home.

A spokesperson from Western Sydney Local Health District said: “An extensive $3.8 million refurbishment has been undertaken to the cancer and haematology ward to create more single rooms, ensuring the area is suitable and appropriate for patients at the end of life. Patients are supported and cared for by appropriately trained, experienced staff.

“Each year, the NSW Government invests more than $210 million in palliative care. In 2017, the NSW Government announced $100million of enhanced funding over four years to improve access and choice in palliative care and work to reduce avoidable hospital admissions.”

Dr Lee said: “This response again highlights the total lack of understanding by the executive of the function of an Acute Palliative Care Ward in a tertiary referral hospital. Such a dedicated ward requires appropriate facilities for patients and their families and most importantly staffed by a team with highly specialised palliative care skills.

“It also ignores the repeated support by leaders of other vital areas of Westmead Hospital, including the Emergency Department, Intensive Care and the Respiratory Failure ward, for the re-establishment of an Acute Palliative Care ward in Westmead Hospital ever since the stand-alone ward was closed in 2009.”

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