Palliative care programme to be extended into 4 states in 2 years

The estimated number of palliative medicine specialists should be at 218 for the nation’s population


THE palliative care programme by the Ministry of Health (MoH) is expected to be extended into four states namely Melaka, Negri Sembilan, Sabah and Sarawak within the next two years.

MoH palliative medicine national advisor Dr Richard Lim Boon Leong said currently the programme is only available in four states, Selangor, Perak, Kedah and Penang.

“The target time to expand is actually 1½ years, as we have specialists in training, so the hope is that once we have some expertise (in palliative care) within these states, we can grow further.

“Although there is a shortage of specialists right now and it will take time to actually train more of them, we need to also look at other levels of training to upscale medical officers so they can handle things (regarding palliative medicine),” he said at the National Palliative Care Policy and Strategic Plan 2019-2030 in Selangor yesterday.

Palliative care looks at improving the quality of life for people who are facing the challenges of incurable diseases and end of life, usually for those with cancer.

Currently, there are only 21 trained palliative care specialists in Malaysia and five specialised units in MoH.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (picture) said to compare the number to developed countries, the estimated number of palliative medicine specialists should be at 218 for the nation’s population.

“Clearly, we have a lot of work to do to improve the comfort and dignity of Malaysians, and to achieve the universal health coverage (UHC),” he said.

The UHC is a term used by the World Health Organisation to define that all people and community can use the promotive, preventive, curative and palliative health services they need.

Over the past 28 years, most homecare or community palliative care services are provided by non-governmental organisations, including Hospice Malaysia and members of the Malaysian Hospice Council. Dr Dzulkefly said while specialists may help improve care in clinical settings, good palliative care cannot be achieved by only experts.

“We need more nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, social workers and many others,” he said.

He said everyone plays a part in providing palliative care, starting from its basic level to the complex.

“We recognise the need that all Malaysians should be able to access good palliative care equitably wherever they may be and not merely in large urban hospitals and areas that are more affluent, but also the rural areas,” he added.

The National Palliative Care Policy and Strategy Plan 2019-2030 launched yesterday will serve as a roadmap or guideline to achieve good palliative care nationwide.

Dr Lim said the policy has outlined seven main strategies under equity, sustainability and quality thrusts, to achieve the vision of “Providing Compassionate Care throughout the Healthcare System”.

“What we hope for at the end of this strategic plan is to develop a model, to integrate palliative care into our healthcare system, whereby someone has a serious illness can actually be with their family at home while also being close to any medical specialist or care,” he said.

Part of the policy strategic plan is to develop further domiciliary palliative care services to the entire country over the next five years.

It is estimated that over 100,000 Malaysians who die each year will require palliative care and by 2030, the number is projected to rise to 230,000.