Background: Indigenous patients with life-limiting conditions have complex needs, experience reduced access to and uptake of treatment, and have lower utilisation of palliative care services than the general population. Lack of understanding of the role of palliative care and poor availability of culturally-safe specialist palliative care services impact on Indigenous people’s end-of-life decision-making.
In 2003 the Australian Department of Health funded the Program of Experience in Palliative Approach (PEPA) to enhance the skills of the generalist health workforce to support people with palliative care needs. Indigenous health professionals have been a specific target since 2007. To date, 218 Indigenous health workers have completed a PEPA placement (8% of overall number of participants) and 866 participants (7%) have participated in workshops. The program has been administered and implemented differently in each jurisdiction.
Aim: To evaluate the Aboriginal PEPA program for understanding the processes of delivering PEPA in a culturally-appropriate manner and the impact this has had on end-of-life care of Aboriginal people.
Methods: A qualitative approach was taken and involved interviews with jurisdictional Managers, Aboriginal Project Officers, consultants and Aboriginal PEPA participants.
Results: Innovative delivery methods and flexible placement options have enhanced participation numbers however participants highlighted some challenges: recruitment, staff retention, stigma around death and dying, funding, content and perceived lack of required support from some local managers. Although findings vary by jurisdiction, connections to an oncology department, the involvement of an Aboriginal mentor during the PEPA placement, and turning PEPA into an accredited course to attract participants were some of the suggestions for program improvement.
Conclusions: Despite that several issues were identified for further improvement, Indigenous PEPA program provides a flexible, clinical learning experience that is tailored to meet the needs of Indigenous health professionals at various levels.