Rising cancer incidence in Goulburn begs attention in new hospital | Editorial

Anyone who has experienced the deep care and attention of Goulburn’s palliative care team cannot fault their commitment.

This extends to visiting specialists and the outstanding local palliative care and oncology support group, which works miracles with fundraising.

We are blessed with their service. The quality of palliative care is especially dear to Goulburn residents, not least due to its association with the Sisters of Saint John of God. The Sisters also instilled this caring tradition in lay staff at Saint John of God Hospital, now the Bourke Street Health Service.

The number of palliative beds at the upgraded Goulburn Base Hospital after the Bourke Street facility closes is therefore of deep interest to the community. Yet we do not have clarity at this stage. This is despite assurances from Southern NSW Local Health District CEO Andrew Newton that there would “always be hospital based care for palliative patients and their families at Goulburn Base.”

We do not doubt that or his sincerity to an adequate level of care. But the fact that the Goulburn Community Consultative Committee has to lobby for more beds is concerning. It should be a given, particularly in light of the Health Service’s own 2014 clinical services plan which stated that the incidence of new cancer cases was growing at four to five per cent annually from 2006 to 2021 and beyond. 

The Cancer Institute also projected that there would be 291 new cases of cancer in 2021 for the Goulburn region resident population (220 new cases for Goulburn Mulwaree and 71 for Upper Lachlan). This represented a 22pc increase over 10 years on the 238 new cases of cancer in Goulburn Mulwaree and Upper Lachlan in 2011.

As always, bed numbers will likely come down to funding. The Health Service says it will also rely heavily on home care services for palliative cases. There is merit in this and indeed, many palliative patients prefer to be among family at this distressing time.

But it’s not for everyone and there will always be a need for strong hospital care. As the Sydney Morning Herald reported this week, Palliative Care Australia estimates that while 70pc of Australians want to die at home, only 14pc do so. Further, only one palliative medicine specialist is available for every 704 deaths annually. 

They’re concerning figures, ones we hope the Health District deeply considers in the new facility.


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