COMMENT: Palliative Care
Canada has an aging population and, as a result, will face many challenges. While we have been engaged with some of the items affected at the federal level, there is a vacuum for government initiatives related to end of life care, which is known as palliative care.
To be clear, a person doesn’t have to be elderly to benefit from palliative care since many terminal illnesses are not limited to any one age group, however, palliative care is predominantly aimed at older populations. Whether elderly or young, patients who require palliative assistance, their loved ones, and our hospitals would all be well served by a national palliative care strategy. While there has been agreement for years among academics, health professionals, faith communities, and the public that Canada needs a better strategy for end of life care, there has been no movement on the issue from the government.
That is not to say that there have not been any initiatives in Parliament, only that they have yet to garner the attention they deserve in recognition of the fact that it is an idea whose time has come. Most recently, last May, my colleague, Charlie Angus introduced his Motion M-456 to establish a Pan-Canadian Palliative and End-of-life Care Strategy in conjunction with provinces and territories on a flexible and integrated model of palliative care. This Motion passed receiving support from all parties except for the Bloc.
According to Charlie Angus, “This is an issue that touches every Canadian and leaves an impact on every single family. When we have good options for palliative care, we can ease the many burdens on families so they are able make these difficult transitions. Where the services are fragmented, too many people fall through the cracks – right when they need support the most.
We are happy there was all-party support for a Pan-Canadian Strategy for Palliative and End of Life Care as laid out in NDP motion M-456. Together, we must thankthe many people and organizations across the country who worked hard to advance this important issue.
Instead of placing palliative patients in emergency rooms and hospital beds, we can replace those services with well-supported home care options. It is estimated that we can reduce the end of life health care costs by half – currently a savings in the range of $ 8-9,000 a patient. Again, with an aging population, if left unchecked, those costs will only grow. In addition to economic reasons, appropriate palliative care will allow people to receive care in the comfort of their own home (if possible), maintain dignity, and offer loved ones an opportunity to be involved in providing care as well.
Clearly this is an issue that is growing in importance, and one would hope the federal government would recognize this. There are a number of ways to go about this and some items, such as extending leave for caregivers could be important components of a plan. Without a strategy to tie these items together and reach out to the provinces and territories, we continue to have an uneven and incomplete approach to a health care challenge that affects most people. Canadians deserve a smart and cohesive plan.