Equity consideration in palliative care policies, programs, and evaluation: an analysis of selected federal and South Australian documents

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Inequity in access to palliative care and symptom relief is one of the greatest disparities in global health care. A public health approach to palliative care is underpinned by the social view of health that puts an emphasis on equity, community engagement and empowerment, a supportive policy environment, and social determinants of health. Consideration of equity in policy is critical so that it can be translated into equitable services. However, the extent to which Australian palliative care policies incorporate equity, and their translation into actual actions have not been extensively examined.

This exploratory study aimed to examine the extent to which Australian federal and South Australian palliative care policies and initiatives incorporate equity, and to identify evidence gaps and research priorities that can inform equity-oriented policies and practices.

We reviewed 25 federal and South Australian documents relating to palliative care published over the past five years. Documents were publicly available from the Australian Government Department of Health website. We used search filter ‘Palliative care and end of life’ in the Department’s resource webpage to narrow down documents to those with palliative care and end of life in the document title and/or content. The initial list was discussed in the research team to ensure key documents are included. Supplementary to document review, we conducted five key informant interviews in South Australia. Interview participants were people from the policy sector, not-for-profit organisations, a funding body and a community advocacy group in South Australia who had knowledge and experience in palliative care policy, practice and research. Documents and interview transcripts were imported into the NVivo 12 software for coding. Content analysis looked at the frequencies of relevant terms, and then more detailed inductive and deductive thematic analysis was undertaken which was guided by an equity action framework.

Overall, we found incremental steps forward over the past few years in considering equity in Australian palliative care policies. Key themes that emerged from the study were: identifying population groups experiencing poor access to palliative care, strategies to improve access including increased awareness of palliative care, flexible models of care, building workforce capacity, and the need for greater investment in palliative care research and evaluation. Strategies to address systemic barriers as well as social, political and cultural determinants of inequity was less evident in policy documents. There was little evidence of actions to engage and empower communities. Interviews provided insight on key areas of priority for future palliative care research.

Achieving the goal of equity in palliative care for all is complex and multifaceted. It requires strong commitment and actions at policy and government level but also in clinical practice, workforce planning and capacity building, community engagement and research investment to implement and evaluate public health approaches to palliative care.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Palliative Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2022


  • Australia
  • Equity
  • Palliative care
  • Policy
  • Public health approach


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