We need palliative care strategy

As our population ages, our health system needs to adapt to meet the changing needs of an elderly demographic.

New Democrats have long called for a home care plan that would help seniors and others recover in the comfort of familiar surroundings. But not every person is going to recover from an illness.

That’s why a national palliative care strategy is essential to provide better care and reduce hospital costs, and give patients and their families options for dealing with the many challenges at the end of life.

According to the Canadian Medical Association, “Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with a life-threatening illness. [It involves] the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification, assessment and treatment of pain and other physical, psychosocial, and spiritual symptoms.”

New Democrats introduced a motion, M-456, in the House of Commons to initiate a national program of palliative care. It was debated for the first time on April 1, 2014.

It calls for a Pan-Canadian Palliative and End-of-life Care Strategy that takes into account the geographic, regional, and cultural diversity of urban and rural Canada; respects the cultural, spiritual and familial needs of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis people; and encourages Canadians to discuss and plan for endof-life care.

M-456 follows the work of the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care. In 2011 the committee recommended that the federal government re-establish a palliative care secretariat charged with developing and implementing a national palliative and end-oflife care strategy.

The Conservatives cut all funding to the secretariat in 2007 and it folded.

Right now, the majority of Canadians die in hospitals. There they have access to proper care but a hospital and its protocols that may demand every attempt be made to save a patient’s life may not fit with someone’s wishes for their end of life.

That’s why the motion calls for improving the consistency of home-based care, particularly in rural areas and small communities. The closer to family that patients can be, the easier it will be for everyone.

But the motion also recognizes the incredible energy and commitment demanded of caregivers looking after a loved one who is near death. Respite care, adequate spiritual and emotional support and financial and work support are all issues that caregivers would like a national strategy to deal with.

We are still at the leading edge of the generation of baby boomers heading into old age and needing palliative care. If we take the time and create the system now, our whole country will be in a better position to deal with the many people who will need this service as they reach the end of their life.

If you want to support this motion, go to my website www.jeancrowder.ca where there is a petition you can sign.

Jean Crowder is the Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan