A February 2015 Nanos Poll of Canadian public opinion suggested that 73% of Canadians were concerned that they will not receive the comfort and support they would hope to receive if they or a loved one was facing a life threatening illness and nearing death. This is consistent with other studies that have shown although 75% of Canadians want to die at home, 70% actually die in an acute care hospital bed. In April 2016, an expert multi-disciplinary roundtable, which included palliative care specialists, community organizers, policy implementers, academics and innovators, were convened by Pallium Canada (www.pallium.ca) and Cardus to explore ways to catalyze change. Three documents have come out of this roundtable: an adapted version of the agenda and background documents; a summary of discussion themes; and a backgrounder providing a statistical overview of Palliative Care in Canada. Highlights from these include:

  • Palliative Care is commonly but mistakenly understood as medical care provided when death is imminent. A broader understanding of this care as including social, psychosocial, and spiritual dimensions most often delivered outside of the health system needs to be cultivated.
  • The reality has not matched the rhetoric in providing palliative care. In British Columbia, for example (considered by most observers as one of the leading jurisdictions), just over 50% of the province’s approximately 30,000 annual deaths occur in hospital. BC has 377 hospice and palliative care beds.
  • A Canadian version of a “compassionate communities” approach, which has been implemented internationally, requires both institutional and governmental changes in the health system. However, culturally driven change is also required for progress to be made.

Palliative Care, although widely discussed, is a misunderstood term.

  • The Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians (which has only 350 members) reports “there is no reliable data on the number of palliative care physicians in Canada.”
  • Although the mix of home care, palliative beds in hospitals and long-term care facilities, and hospices vary by province, without clear and standard definition, the mix is inadequate.

To access all three documents relating to the roundtable, visit: https://www.cardus.ca/research/health/publications/