SPEAKING OUT: Dr Graeme Burger has called for urgent policy and funding reforms to the palliative health care sector.
SPEAKING OUT: Dr Graeme Burger has called for urgent policy and funding reforms to the palliative health care sector. John Gass

Tweed's palliative care crisis calls for urgent funding

A BOTCHED Federal Government online portal for the elderly and funding cutbacks to the aged care sector have wreaked havoc for palliative care patients on the Tweed.

Patients must use the My Aged Care website launched on July 1 to get medical care in the weeks leading up to their death, but the system has technical glitches.

Tweed Heads Hospital palliative director Dr Graeme Burger said the website caused delays for patients and it was also introduced with funding cutbacks.

Palliative care was previously funded by the federal and state governments. But, as of July 1, federal funding has stopped and the state has slashed in-home care for those aged under 65.

The resulting system had failed Banora Point 49-year-old mother-of-one Donna Harrison who was denied government-funded, in-home nursing in the lead up to her death in August.

"There have not only been huge delays in clients being attended to by the new system but those under 65 who are palliative are now not being provided for," Dr Burger said.

The changes have derailed a crucial weekly meeting between the Tweed Heads Hospital palliative care unit and the Tweed's former, largest provider of in-home palliative care, Feros.

A Feros representative claimed the meetings were "out of goodwill" but correspondence from Feros to the hospital shows they were cancelled due to budget cuts.

Their Home and Community Care personal care service is now capped at 30 patients, and new patients must be over 65.

Tweed Palliative Support service president Meredith Dennis said the changes meant "someone has to die before they can take on another person for care".

Ms Dennis said there were also cutbacks to staff across the sector.

She said this had resulted in a dying Murwillumbah woman in her 80s last month being "left seven days without a shower". The woman died the following day.

A Feros-registered nurse was no longer funded to assess the woman's needs on the Tweed five days a week and missed the patient referral from Murwillumbah Hospital. Feros declined to comment.

The widening gaps in palliative care on the Tweed must be filled by the TPS. The non-profit provides volunteers for in-home palliative care, free equipment hire and 24-hour medically staffed palliative care in Dulguigan.


Dr Burger warned that the Tweed Hospital relied on transferring its palliative patients to TPS. If its four beds were full, like last week, or in-home help was not available, the hospital's 32-bed palliative ward would be blocked.

The hospital's ward has not been upgrade for two decades, and in it the dying must share a room with "screaming" dementia patients, Dr Burger says.

Richmond MP Justine Elliot blamed the Coalition for palliative-care collapse.

"The fact that a local patient under 65 years can't get access to palliative care in the Tweed is due to the fact that (Mr) Provest and his Liberal National Government have slashed $3 billion from the NSW state health budget," she said.

Ms Elliot slammed the Federal Government over the "botched" My Aged Care website and said the "situation will now get worse" because the new PM Malcolm Turnbull failed to appoint an aged care minister.

Tweed MP Geoff Provest defended the current levels of palliative funding, but pledged he would lobby for TPS funding.

"I am lobbying on behalf of the service for funding to pay wages of qualified nursing staff but have not as yet received a formal response."


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