St Vincent’s Health Australia (SVHA) has committed $450,000 to bring culturally appropriate palliative care services to five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) of Cape York as part of an MOU with Northern Peninsula Area Family and Community Services (NPAFACS) and Apunipima Cape York Health Council (Apunipima).
People living in remote Cape York communities – in particular the five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of Bamaga, Seisia, Injinoo, Umagico and New Mapoon – experience some of the highest levels of chronic disease and poorest health outcomes in Australia yet don’t have access to local palliative care. The nearest palliative care is more than 1000 kms away in Cairns.
St Vincent’s Health Australia – the nation’s largest not-for-profit health and aged care provider and a provider of palliative care services for more than 125 years – said it responded to a need, raised by NPAFACS through Apunipima, for expert guidance to develop a high-quality, culturally appropriate palliative care service tailored and accessible to the communities of the Cape.
The MOU outlines SVHA’s commitment over five years to achieve in partnership with NPAFACS, Apunipima and the communities of the NPA, including:
• Participation in the Commonwealth Government’s palliative care education program (Program of Experience in the Palliative Approach or PEPA) which includes capacity for palliative care specialists to visit Aboriginal health services to facilitate palliative care learning.
• provision of advanced palliative care training for local staff;
• community capacity building through ongoing clinical support;
• development of a culturally appropriate model of care and a business plan to establish a permanent palliative care service, and;
• provision of specialist care and support of palliative care clients via telehealth.
Associate Prof Mark Boughey, Deputy Director of St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Centre for Palliative Care, said – first and foremost – he and his colleagues would listen to the communities about their palliative care needs.
“It’s going to be a learning exercise and an exercise in trust-building. We need to listen to the people in community, and understand what they want from their palliative care service, so that it will cater to the requirements of those who will access it,” he said.
“From there, an appropriate service model can be developed, and then local stories will spread about how members of the communities will die respectfully, at home, on country and with family.”
Mrs Patricia Yusia, a Board Member of Apunipima Cape York Health Council, voiced a sigh of relief about the project.
“It is great to see that St Vincent’s Health Australia is not only willing to fund this project, but is willing to walk alongside Apunipima and NPAFACS on how we can best help these communities,” said Mrs Yusia.
The NPA palliative care project is an extension of an ongoing partnership between St Vincent’s and Apunipima that already provides primary healthcare services to 11 Cape York communities and advocates for 17 others, including those of the Northern Peninsula Area.
“With the highest levels of chronic disease in the country and an average life expectancy of 58 years, there’s considerable need for high-quality and culturally appropriate end of life care in our region,” said Ms Ugari Nona, President, NPAFACS.
“There are currently no palliative care services north of Cairns, some 1000kms away, and certainly no end of life care services appropriate to the cultural requirements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Cape York.”
For the people of NPA’s five communities who have a life-limiting illness, accessing end of life care means leaving the community, leaving family and country to travel to Cairns.
“It’s hard enough for those who are dying to move away to Cairns, but it’s also very hard for the family who can’t be with them,” said Councillor Edward Newman, Mayor of the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council.
“In most cases, our elders go down to Cairns for palliative care, close to death, and often don’t return – and it’s their family, the community that suffers the burden of them dying away.”
Cllr Newman said St Vincent’s commitment to help address NPA’s end of life service needs has been a welcome step, however sustained commitment, for not just the current Elders but the young people who will one day be Elders and Leaders of the communities, it’s an essential requirement for long-term success.
“This five year plan is a good start, and I’m thankful to have the support of St Vincent’s and Apunipima. However to build community capacity to provide culturally appropriate palliative care across NPA in the long-term, we’ll need at least a 20-year plan – a real long-term vision for the future.”
Project oversight will be undertaken by a steering group comprising representatives from Northern Peninsula Area Family and Community Services, Apunipima Cape York Health Council, St Vincent’s Health Australia and St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Centre for Palliative Care.