Flying in Formation: Reflections on Palliative Care South Australia’s 2024 Conference

Written by Professor Jennifer Tieman (@JenniferTieman), Director, Flinders Research Centre for Palliative Care, Death, and Dying.

The Palliative Care SA Conference 2024 was held at future-facing Tonsley, on the lands of the Kaurna people and home to the red kangaroos. Across the day we were to learn of our responsibility to country, to communities and to families, and to the health and social systems that provide care to people coming to the end of their lives. What stands out is the journey between policy makers, health services and health professionals, aged care providers and workers, communities, volunteers and families in enabling and delivering care.

Flying in Formation was the theme of the conference. This very much echoes the strength that comes from working together and of ensuring that research is meaningful to decision makers, to health services and health professionals, and to patients, families and communities. The SA Minister for Health and Wellbeing, the Honourable Chris Picton, clearly laid out the contribution of health professionals in providing care, in educating the workforce and community, in supporting and leading research, in advocating for palliative care and in ensuring that the services and communities are aware of benefits from the research being undertaken.

Pictured (L-R): Jodie Thompson, Hon. Chris Picton MP, Prof Jennifer Tieman

However, the complexity of achieving change was also exposed during the day with the realities of health funding and new aged care funding models, disability and aged care reforms, issues in growing and sustaining the palliative care workforce, pressure on primary care and GPs, and the need to address equity reflecting a system that is under pressure from a population that is collectively ageing and growing frailer. The impact on aged care services and on our hospitals of the success of health interventions allowing us to live into our 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond is now being felt. This is not just a health issue but a societal one as we reconceive our population and our society.

Voices from across the whole of SA’s geography showed the resilience and innovation of the palliative care workforce in working together to meet the needs of people. Of older people, of children and their families, of those from different cultures, of people who had no place to live, of those in the remotest parts of our state, and of those living and dying in prisons. Palliative care is not just about excellence in symptom control but about seeing the whole person, communication and problem solving. Presentations on compassionate communities and the purple bus brought home the true role of home, of being on country, and of being part of communities. Planning for the future has become managing the now and Palliative Care SA has shown us how important ‘flying in formation’ really is.

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Death and dying across the community Palliative care across the health system

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