Federal grant for Sydney palliative experts

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New project focuses on mental and emotional health

Health and welfare professionals around the country will benefit from the work of a Catholic university and hospital in Sydney to boost the mental health and wellbeing of people toward the end of their lives.

Professor David Kissane, the chair of Palliative Medicine Research at the University of Notre Dame Australia, was awarded the $1.06 million grant for a new project.

UNDA’s Professor David Kissane. PHOTO: Supplied

It is aimed at improving the assessment and care for patients who have undiagnosed mental or emotional illness or distress, in recognition of the fact that such suffering accounts for as many hospital admissions and extended lengths of stay as unmanaged physical symptoms.

Professor Kissane will lead the three-year collaborative project in partnership with the Cunningham Palliative Care Research Centre at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney.

It includes an educational and training package based on role-play which will be rolled out to services across every state and territory. If it is a success, he hopes to see it become part of every palliative care service in the country to improve the quality of that care and reduce the burden on hospitals.

As debates continue in parliaments and the media about euthanasia and assisted suicide, Prof Kissane keeps his focus on helping to train palliative care clinicians to help their patients achieve a longer, healthier and overall better quality of life with less suffering towards its end.

“Patients with unrecognised depression, unaddressed demoralisation and unabating anxiety account for the most vulnerable patients in palliative care, with limited access to skilled staff to offer support and evidence-based management,” said Professor Kissane.

Such patients urgently treatment to help them to prevent suicidal thinking, yet the effective medication and counselling options available remain underutilised in palliative services which have an emphasis on physical symptoms, he said.

“When somebody is existentially distressed they might say ‘I feel hopeless about my future’ or ‘I wonder about the point of the months ahead of me’, that’s not something that is able to be given a pill to fix and therefore services have tended to see those sorts of questions as a little too challenging.

“This will help to make palliative providers more comfortable and competent in discussing thee things and increase the quality of care as a result.”

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