Celebrating World Hospice and Palliative Care Day

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World Hospice and Palliative Care Day is an annual unified day of action to celebrate and support hospice and palliative care around the world.  This year’s World Day theme is “Compassionate Communities: Together for Palliative Care” and takes place on Saturday 14th October 2023.  This aims to highlight the important role that communities have in working compassionately to support the people requiring palliative care, their families and the bereaved in their communities. In addition to world day, Ireland is unique, and each year celebrates palliative care week. This year it will take place 11th – 16th September and the focus of palliative care week is ‘Living for today, planning for tomorrow’ (https://aiihpc.org)

Palliative care is an essential component of national health systems and an essential service within Universal Health Coverage reforms. Palliative care includes the physical, psychosocial, and spiritual care of people with life-limiting conditions and aims to address pain and other symptoms by optimising their quality of life.  Palliative care should be integrated early in the course of disease and should be available until the end of their lives and should consider how best to support bereaved families.

In 2014, the World Health Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to strengthen palliative care as a component of comprehensive care throughout the life course and should be available to both children and adults. The World Health Assembly Resolution stated that palliative care is an ethical responsibility of health systems and a key component of universal health coverage. The continuum of universal health coverage under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number three includes Promotion, Prevention, Treatment, Rehabilitation, and Palliative essential health services. This also includes the allocation of funding for these services.

In a recent paper that ranked palliative care in 81 countries globally, Ireland ranked second.[1]  Ireland has a long and proud history of providing palliative care. The national palliative care policy developed in 2001[2], provided a comprehensive blueprint for the development of palliative care services.  In subsequent years, many of the recommendations of the policy have been implemented.  As a result, new posts have been developed, hospices have opened, palliative care education and training of health and social care professionals has been established and services have been developed in all regions of Ireland. In 2020, the programme for government, committed to publishing a new palliative care policy for adults.  This is expected in the coming months. A policy for children’s palliative care in Ireland was published in 2010 and this has resulted in improved access to palliative care for children and their families[3].

Palliative care in Ireland has been enhanced through its recognition as a medical and a nursing specialty and its inclusion in the education and training of healthcare professionals with opportunities for both undergraduate and post-graduate training. In addition, a Palliative Care Competence Framework[4]  for all health and social care professionals has also been developed.  Palliative care services are available throughout Ireland in all settings including hospitals, hospices and in the community as part of primary care.  However, these vary within and between geographical regions nationally.  Ideally palliative care should be available to all, regardless of their diagnosis, geographical location and yet in Ireland many people still do not have access to palliative care.

The OECD recently called for better care at end of life[1], they found that despite many people preferring to die at home, half of deaths are in hospitals, and this is often due to a lack of home and community support. Whilst palliative care is available in the community in Ireland, the Lancet commission on the value of death suggests that to refocus death and dying as a part of life, greater community involvement is needed to compliment health and social care services[2]. This is at the heart of compassionate communities. At the very simplest level, compassionate communities help to increase awareness of access to palliative care[3] and recognise that health and social care services are important, but that care is also the responsibility of others.

Ireland has made huge advances in developing and strengthening palliative care.  As we mark World Hospice and Palliative Care Day, this year’s campaign provides the opportunity to celebrate success but also to address the substantial gaps in access to palliative care services, to ensure that there is not only improved access to palliative care in Ireland but also to involve our communities.

This article was originally published on the Hospital Professional News Ireland magazine and you can access this article and much more on the magazine HERE.

[1] https://www.oecd.org/health/time-for-better-care-at-the-end-of-life-722b927a-en.htm#:~:text=People%20at%20the%20end%20of,and%20governance%20models%20of%20care.


[3] https://ehospice.com/international_posts/compassionate-communities-together-for-palliative-care/#:~:text=Compassionate%20communities%20have%20been%20known,end%2Dof%2Dlife%20journey.

[1] https://www.jpsmjournal.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0885-3924%2821%2900673-4

[2] https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/06aecd-report-of-the-national-advisory-committee-on-palliative-care/

[3] https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/ed697f-palliative-care-for-children-with-life-limiting-conditions-in-irelan/#

[4] https://aiihpc.org/our_work/education/competence-framework/

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