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Open Access Research article

Inequity in the provision of and access to palliative care for cancer patients. Results from the Italian survey of the dying of cancer (ISDOC)

Monica Beccaro1*, Massimo Costantini1, Domenico Franco Merlo2 and the ISDOC Study Group

Author Affiliations

1 Unit of Clinical Epidemiology, National Cancer Institute, Genova, Italy

2 Unit of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, National Cancer Institute, Genova, Italy

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:66  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-66

Published: 27 April 2007

Abstract

Background

The palliative services and programs have been developed with different intensity and modalities in all countries. Several studies have reported that a geographic variation in the availability and provision of palliative care services between and within countries exists, and that a number of vulnerable groups are excluded from these services. This survey estimates the distribution of places of care for Italian cancer patients during the last three months of their lives, the proportion receiving palliative care support at home and in hospital, and the factors associated with the referral to palliative care services.

Methods

This is a mortality follow-back survey of 2,000 cancer deaths identified with a 2-stage probability sample, representative of the whole country. Information on patients' experience was gathered from the non-professional caregiver through an interview, using an adapted version of the VOICES questionnaire. A section of the interview concerned the places of care and the palliative care services provided to patients. Multivariate logistic regression analyses were conducted to identify the determinants of palliative care service use.

Results

Valid interviews were obtained for 67% of the identified caregivers (n = 1,271). Most Italian cancer patients were cared for at home (91%) or in hospital (63%), but with substantial differences within the country. Only 14% of Italian cancer patients cared for at home against 20% of those admitted to hospital, received palliative care support. The principal determinants identified for receiving these service were: an extended interval between diagnosis and death (P = 0.01) and the caregiver's high educational level (P = 0.01) for patients at home; the low patient's age (P < 0.01) and the caregiver's high educational level (P = 0.01) for patients in hospital.

Conclusion

In Italy palliative care services are not equally available across the country. Moreover, access to the palliative care services is strongly associated with socio demographic characteristics of the patients and their caregivers. Italian Policy-makers need to equalise palliative care provision and access across the country to meet the needs of all cancer patients.