THOUSANDS of South Coast residents have added their names to a petition calling on the NSW Government to invest more funds in palliative care.
More than 40,000 signatures have been collected in waiting rooms at general practitioners' offices across the state, and that figure should rise sharply by the petition's closing date of November 13. The issue is then expected to be debated in State Parliament in late November.
More Funds for Palliative Care campaign founder Dr Yvonne McMaster said there had been an alarming decline in palliative care services for adults and children statewide.
"The Illawarra needs more palliative care specialists, it's not the worst-affected area in the state but it has only got around half the specialists that are needed," she said.
"The further south you go the worse the situation is, with areas like Ulladulla facing a real shortage of services.
"This is exacerbated by a shortage of GPs throughout the state - particularly in regional and rural areas, so they can't provide the attention and support to people facing the end of their lives either."
The NSW government will release the Palliative Care Plan 2012-16 on Thursday, increasing funding by $35 million over four years.
Dr McMaster said $20 million had been announced in the state budget, so it was not "new funding" and it was not enough for a sector in "dire straits".
She said the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's recently released Palliative Care Report revealed that NSW had the lowest ratio of specialist palliative care physicians per 100,000 people of all the major states.
"There has been an alarming decline in funding for palliative care in NSW relative to community needs over the past few years," Dr McMaster said.
"The proportion of people over 65 with chronic conditions such as kidney and heart failure, dementia and cancer have all increased, which in turn has seen a greater need for palliative care services."
Dr McMaster, who worked as a palliative care specialist for 23 years, started a campaign to increase funding for the sector last year and it's been gaining momentum ever since.