More funding sought for palliative care

  • March 5, 2010
{mosimage}TORONTO - The executive director of the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association is calling for increased funding for community care, including at-home palliative care, in the wake of a study that found Canadian families are paying a high price to care for loved ones at home.

“If there’s no proper support, we crush the backs of Canadian caregivers and families,” Sharon Baxter told The Catholic Register from Ottawa.

The general trend has been for people wanting to receive care in their own homes, Baxter said. In the long run, it’s the least costly option.

“It should be the right of every Canadian to die with dignity, free of pain and in the setting of their choice,” she said.

Baxter’s comments followed the mid-February publication of a study in the scientific journal Palliative Medicine that said families often take on more than 25 per cent of costs associated with end-of-life care. That equates to an average bill of about $5,000 over the lifetime of a patient.

The Feb. 10 study surveyed 248 participants from urban centres in Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Victoria. The participants lived at home and were cared for by a relative. After six months of telephone interviews, researchers obtained information about the type and quantity of goods and services and suppliers used by participants. The cost of care on average was $18,446, with 71.3 per cent funded by the health care system, 26.6 per cent by the family and 1.6 per cent by non-profit organizations.

The study’s lead author, Prof. Serge Dumont of Laval University, said only about 10 per cent of Canadians have access to integrated palliative care programs.

“Where palliative care programs do not exist, the financial burden may weigh more heavily upon families,” Dumont said in a statement. “That’s why we should also be looking at patients from rural areas where access to care and services is sometimes more limited.”                     

The study was co-authored by Laval University professors Donna Anderson, Véronique Turcotte and François Harel, as well as University of Alberta professors Philips Jacobs and Konrad Fassbender. It was funded by a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.                                            

Moira McQueen, director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, said while 75 per cent of health care being covered “seems reasonable,” low income families could experience an “extra strain in resources.”

“The high cost (of palliative care) is more emotional,” she said, adding that people are “prepared to shoulder the economic burden” as more are choosing to be at home during their final days or years.

In 2007, 23 per cent of Canadians said they cared for a family member or close friend with a serious health problem over the previous 12 months, according to the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.

The adverse effects experienced by this group include using their personal savings to survive (41 per cent) and missing one or more months of work (22 per cent).

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