The number of people in Ireland who will require palliative care over the coming decades is expected to increase significantly, the results of a new study indicate.
Palliative care focuses on helping people with life-limiting conditions to achieve the best quality of life they can.
It involves the management of symptoms, such as pain, but also aims to provide support for a person's emotional, social and spiritual needs. It can be provided at home, in hospital, in a nursing home or in a hospice.
Researchers at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) set out to estimate how many people are expected to die from a serious disease, such as cancer, heart disease or dementia, over the coming 30 years.
They found that the number of people dying in Ireland who will have palliative care needs is set to increase by 84% by 2046.
The estimated increase during the same period for England and Wales is 43%.
According to one of the researchers, Prof Karen Ryan, a consultant in palliative medicine at the Mater Hospital and St Francis Hospice, people are living longer with more serious illnesses, and while this is a "success story for society, it also brings challenges".
"Ireland is recognised to have a high standard of palliative care provision, but our data show that capacity must increase significantly if we are to maintain that.
"Sláintecare priorities include a revised national palliative care policy in 2020 and we hope that our results will inform this review, so that people dying with serious illness, and their families, receive the care and support they need during this unique life event," she commented.
Meanwhile, the study also estimated the number of people who will live with serious illnesses requiring expert support in the years prior to their death.
It found that the number of people living with a serious disease outnumber those in the last year of life with a serious disease by about 12:1.
According to the study's lead author, Dr Peter May, of TCD, this has important implications because not only are more people dying with serious medical conditions, "many more people are living with them also".
"The highest average illness burden and healthcare need is of course among those near the end of life. But total population needs will be driven by all people experiencing these conditions.
"Healthcare provision has to change to reflect those needs. We need better anticipatory and supportive care to lower avoidable hospital admissions and keep people living at home and in their communities for as long possible," he said.
The researchers added that in light of their findings, there is an urgent need to address funding and workforce issues in palliative care.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.