By BEV JORDAN
A grassroots campaign that has swept Sydney in a bid to get a dedicated palliative care unit at Westmead hospital has taken a huge step forward.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard has directed Western Sydney Local Health District to investigate opportunities to create an additional palliative care unit to complement current services. The only dedicated palliative care unit in Western Sydney at the moment is at Mt Druitt Hospital.
The ministerial move is a huge relief for the Westmead Push for Palliative Care group which has harnessed community support since it was formed in October last year with a Facebook campaign, a 1300-name e-petition, and talks to clubs, community groups and civic leaders.
Hills To Hawkesbury Community News first wrote about the calls for the re-establishment of a stand-alone palliative care unit at Westmead in September 2020 after concerns were raised by Former palliative care director Dr Philip Lee and Hills resident and cancer patient advocate James Butler.
They were concerned that the lack of a dedicated unit and appropriately trained care staff hindered the ability to care for complex end of life patients and meant a lack of single rooms and quiet rooms for family and carers.
Westmead Hospital’s Acute Care Ward Westmead Hospital was closed in 2009. Palliative Care nurse Ray Wilcox worked on the ward for nine years and for part of that time was acting Nurse Unit Manager.
“We were caring for about 300 patients a year in those eight beds and 50 to 60 per cent would pass away and the others went home with community-based care,” he said.
“The ward was quiet and controlled, we worked with chaplains and social workers .. it wasn’t just a hospice .. we had a lot of acute care interventions and worked with the hospital’s acute pain team and used their expertise. Westmead Hospital is a centre of excellence, there is no question, and the palliative care doctors could talk to the various teams and get interventions done to give people back their quality of life.”
When Anna Pelle’s father was admitted for palliative at Westmead Hospital in 2011 he spent three weeks in a general ward with four beds.
“He was in a room with other people. It was not good for other people in the ward. We were there every day all day and all night,” said Anna.“We felt guilty to say our father was dying, we didn’t want to worry the other patients. We didn’t want them to feel awkward. It was gut-wrenching.”
A week before he died her dad, who had liver cancer, was moved to a private room.
“We were in that whirlwind of grief and we were not thinking of what the possibilities could be, having a private room from day dot (and) having support from day dot.
“It would have been a 100 per cent different experience if there was a palliative care ward.”
She said just being able to talk to trained palliative care nurses would have made a huge difference.
“They would have given us an insight as to what was happening to dad as he deteriorated in front of our eyes, it would have been comforting to know what to expect, rather than being on edge the entire time.”
Since her father passed away Anna retrained as an end-of-life doula helping terminally ill people and their families organise the practical things that needed to be done, giving families valuable time back with their loved one.
“In my line of work, everyone says they want to die at home but not everyone can. I want those who are dying to have a safe space to be,” she said.
HEALTH SERVICE RESPONSE
A spokesperson from the Western Sydney Local Health District provided the following statement to the Hills to Hawkesbury Community News
“Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) welcomes the 2021-22 Budget announcement to further boost palliative care funding by $82.8 million over the next four years to improve support for people with a life-limiting or terminal illness.
“The announcement includes support for hospital-based palliative care services in our District, which will include additional patient beds and is on top of more than $220 million that the NSW Government invests each year in palliative services and support.
“A review of our palliative care services will continue to be undertaken by WSLHD so that we can ensure we are providing the most appropriate care to the people of western Sydney, now and in the future.
“Palliative and supportive care continue to be provided at Westmead Hospital, where an extensive $3.8 million refurbishment to cancer and haematology ward was completed in 2017.
“Under the refurbishment the ward was remodelled to create more single rooms, ensuring the area is suitable and appropriate for both cancer and palliative patients.
“Patients can also be referred to our facility at Mount Druitt Hospital, which has an award-winning, purpose-built and specialised palliative and supportive care service.
“To meet changing community expectations, we have partnered with palliative care provider Silver Chain to provide in-home palliative care to patients in western Sydney who have advanced, progressive and life-limiting illnesses.
“The service provides free access to an expert team for clinical care, support for daily activities, counselling and spiritual care, and bereavement support.”