Bega hospice group brings hope

THE right for terminally ill patients in the Bega Valley to have quality end-of-life care in a home environment is the premise behind the newly formed community group, Bega Valley Hospice.

The group wishes to address the gap between the person’s wish to die at home and current practice. 

A recent survey found while 70 per cent of Australians say they want to die at home, only 16 per cent actually do.

The Bega Valley Hospice Group came together after retired health professional Sue Middlewood made contact with Bermagui community volunteer Julie Roberts. 

“I noticed a little article in the BDN (18/5/12) about a woman wanting to meet others interested in improving the experience of palliative care patients and their families,” Mrs Middlewood said. 

That woman was Ms Roberts, who last May took it upon herself to coordinate a Palliative Care Week stall in Bega’s Ayres Walkway to bring attention to the topic. 

“There was no group in the Bega Valley that advocated for palliative care and after many years as a volunteer Julie was concerned by the lack of palliative care support,” Mrs Middlewood said. 

In 2004, Mrs Middlewood worked as a palliative care nurse in the Bega community, a part-time position of 20 hours a week. 

Almost 10 years later little has changed despite the growing – and ageing – population in the Bega Valley. 

There is still only one-part time palliative care community nurse and another engaged at Bega District Hospital. 

The South East Regional Hospital (SERH), due to open in 2016, will feature dedicated palliative care beds, however Mrs Roberts said at this stage it doesn’t appear that palliative care or pain specialists will be working there. 

“Community nurses, nurses on the ward and doctors, they are all providing care but they are not specifically trained in end-of-life care for patients and their families, and that’s what is truly needed,” Mrs Roberts said. 

The group has the support of Bega Valley Shire councillor Ann Mawhinney, who was involved with forming a palliative care sub group with the Bega Valley Cancer Council as well as within the BVSC itself. 

The council recently passed a motion to lobby government for the resources to have a full-time coordinator to train and oversee palliative care volunteers in the Bega Valley. 

A coordinator is just one of goals of the Bega Valley Hospice Group, which ultimately wants to see a hospice built in the shire. 

“I recently visited the hospice in Canberra and the difference it makes to patients and families to have end-of-life care in a dedicated facility is incredible,” Mrs Roberts said. 

The Bega Valley Hospice Group met with Member for Bega Andrew Constance recently to discuss their aims. 

“Mr Constance is the Minister for Ageing, so a topic like the need for more resources for palliative care in rural areas is a subject he’s interested in,” Mrs Roberts said. 

“We need him to understand there are holes – gaping holes – in palliative care here.” 

The group, along with the palliative care committees from the BVSC and the Cancer Council, will also meet with Dr Yvonne McMaster next week to discuss ways to bring their goals to fruition. 

Dr McMaster is a retired palliative care specialist who recently delivered a petition to NSW parliament that had 60,000 signatures demanding more resources for the sector, prompting Health Minister Jillian Skinner to pledge an additional $35million dollars to the sector over four years. 

“We have a lot of good, dedicated people working towards these goals and I hope we can achieve them for the patients, carers and their families,” Mrs Roberts said. 

* For more information on the Bega Valley Hospice Group, call Julie Roberts on 6493 8586.

Palliative care forum

PALLIATIVE care specialist Dr Yvonne McMaster will address a public meeting on Wednesday at 6pm at the CWA Hall, Canning St, Bega. 

Entitled “Palliative Care - the way forward”, she will address a range of issues and engage in discussion with whatever in-depth questions the audience raises. 

Hosted by the Bega Valley Hospice Group, entry is free and all are welcome.

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