Austria hosts their first children’s palliative care congress

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On the 14 and 15 September 2016, at the St Virgil Conference Centre set in lush parklands, complete with deer, in the beautiful city of Salzburg in Austria, Hospice Austria brought together around 250 enthusiastic and dedicated hospice and palliative care workers from around Austria, Germany and Switzerland, to share research and practices in children’s palliative care.

Austria has progressed well over the past 10 years, providing multi-professional education and with a number of paediatric hospice programmes around the country, mostly mobile home palliative care teams and volunteer hospice teams which care for children in their own homes and provide family support; with one free-standing hospice and a few hospital beds. The children’s hospice provides respite with horse and other animal therapy.

Hospice Austria is one of the few national hospice palliative care associations which had the vision to appoint a Paediatric Lead, Claudia Nemeth, to support this development, and this first Congress in Austria is one excellent result of her appointment.

The first day began with a stimulating drumming circle of young people who had migrated to Austria from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Ethiopia and was a reminder of the refugee situation in Europe and the need for hospice and palliative care for these children and young people.

After welcome speeches and short presentations by the President of Hospice Austria, Waltraud Klasnic, as well as government representatives, the opening plenary on Global Development of Children’s Palliative Care was given by Joan Marston, CEO of the ICPCN. This was followed by a wonderfully innovative presentation by Leena Pelttari, CEO of Hospice Austria, and Claudia Nemeth on the development of paediatric hospice and palliative care in Austria, using a large bowl of fruit to demonstrate the results of the work during the past years.

The two day programme included presentations on many different subjects, such as pain and symptom management; ethics; research; self-care; bereavement; sibling support; inter-cultural issues; models of care and complementary therapies. There were a number of presentations on perinatal palliative care and a very brave and moving discussion, with photographs, by young parents on the short life of their first baby who was born with a severe variety of spinal muscular atrophy.

After the end of the first day attendees were all taken to the magnificent Residence at Salzburg in the heart of old Salzburg for a celebration of 10 years of university multi-professional education in palliative care for children, and the awarding of the Peter Fässler-Weibel prize for brave innovation. Moshe Cohen, the clown, entertained attendees during the evening and then presented a well-attended workshop for delegates the following day.

A fitting final plenary was on Advanced Care Planning and was given by Monika Führer, Professor of Paediatric Palliative Care at the University of Munich.

Hospice Austria’s leadership is to be congratulated on their support for education, policy and development of beautiful children’s hospice and palliative care programmes as well as for advocacy with their government. Austria has the potential to become one of the leading countries in this field with their variety of effective programmes, established education, national leadership and collaboration both with hospice programmes in the country and with their neighbouring countries Germany and Switzerland.


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