Palliative care in New Zealand is critically ill

19 September 2022

It is hard to argue with the importance of palliative care – an attentive, responsive, and integrated approach to individuals who are facing death.

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners and specialist palliative care providers across the country are growing increasingly concerned about the repercussions of our under-resourced palliative care system in New Zealand. The recent passing of the End-of-Life Choice Act has placed a spotlight on a palliative care system that is under pressure. While there are passionate professionals providing this service to over 20,000 patients a year, there is not one person in the Ministry of Health or Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand who has specific responsibility for palliative care.

Dr Catherine D’Souza, a palliative care specialist says, “The Government has not developed a fair and accessible palliative care system, and unfortunately it is our dying patients and their grieving whānau who are suffering because of it.”

Dr Bryan Betty, Medical Director of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners agrees, saying, “Many specialist general practitioners who deliver palliative care are facing issues in this area. The current 15-minute consultation model is not enough time for a palliative based care, and it is made even harder when many of these appointments are home-based.

“We know many GPs volunteer their own time for these consultations, while other patients must pay the extra costs. Addressing this inequitable distribution of services must be addressed urgently.”

Dr D’Souza says, “Palliative care specialists, including myself, are finding themselves caring for vast numbers of people over a wide geographical area. I am the only palliative care provider across the South Canterbury region. This is not a sustainable or fair way to deliver these crucial services.”

Urgent moves must be made to improve how palliative care is delivered in New Zealand by implementing a fair, equitable, centrally funded, and well-resourced palliative care system; training more specialists; and ensuring general practitioners have the appropriate support and training to be able to provide this type of care.