News & Media

05 December 2014

Matters of life and death discussed in Inverloch

The ethical dilemmas surrounding elderly Gippslanders with mental illness who require palliative care was discussed by the region’s four nurse practitioner candidates at the annual Gippsland Palliative Care Conference in Inverloch recently.

The Conference was organised by the Gippsland Region Palliative Care Consortium (GRPCC), an alliance of 14 member agencies that provide palliative care for the residents of Gippsland.

Latrobe Community Health Service palliative care nurse practitioner candidate Jenny Turra was among the presenters at the conference from 23 to 24 October, which saw 180 health professionals from across the region attend.

“One of the key concerns we have is the low number of referrals we get for people with a severe, persistent mental illness who face an end-of-life medical condition,” said Ms Turra.

“These are the ‘invisible’ clients who slip through the cracks. By the time they are referred to palliative care services, it is often later in life.

“We know that statistically, people with a severe mental illness die younger than those who don’t. One in two Australians have experienced mental illness, and one in five currently have symptoms.

“When you combine this with an ageing population, you are left wondering what happens to people who need treatment for both physical and psychological conditions.”

Ms Turra said the research she and the three other nurse practitioner candidates undertook examined a case study of a Gippsland woman who had a severe mental illness and cancer.

“We discussed the need to respect the autonomy of the client as well as their values, needs and wishes,” she said.

“It’s also about what’s fair and right for the client, and how health professionals should work together and look at creative ways of treating them holistically.”

Ms Turra, based in Central Gippsland, worked collaboratively with nurse practitioner candidates Maryann Bills from West Gippsland, and Lisa Macdonald and Nicola Gorwell from East Gippsland.

“Health professionals need to continue promoting palliative care,” she said.

“People are still uncomfortable talking about palliative care, but it’s more than end-of-life matters; it’s also about improving quality of life and managing symptoms.”

Latrobe Community Health Service provides palliative care services in and around the Latrobe Valley.