Palliative care units will be started at 17 government medical colleges in the State. The first such unit was inaugurated at Government General Hospital on Friday.

“This is the first step towards establishing a palliative care policy for the State. A policy that would take cancer care to beyond medical management and move on to taking care of people who have a terminal condition,” Health Secretary V.K. Subburaj said.

He said the initial step of setting up units in the medical college hospitals was sensible as it was the tertiary care hospital that attracted a large number of people with cancer and later in need of palliative care.

Currently, the units will avail of the existing services in the cancer ward of the various hospitals. Morphine will be provided free.

The existing staff, some of whom are already trained, will also man these palliative centres.

“Those staff nurses who are hitherto untrained will now be provided training in the specialised area of palliative care,” Mr. Subburaj added.

Eventually any augmentation of staff or redistribution within the hospital will be taken care of, he said.

At district hospitals

The next stage would be to move to the district hospitals to set up palliative care units there, in order to take services closer to the people. Meanwhile, the private sector hospitals and NGOs who are already doing good work in the area of palliative care will be roped into the network, Mr. Subburaj told The Hindu.

“Finally, there is something that all of us working in the palliative care area can be happy about and look forward to,” Deepa Muthiah of Dean Foundation said. The organisation has been involved in the process right from the beginning, she added.

They also made a presentation on a four-month pilot project in palliative care that they undertook as a public-private partnership in Kancheepuram district.

Multi-disciplinary care

“The agenda has been to get the common man to access pain relief, and now he can. Also, once it reaches the policy stage, it will be a great thing for the sector. It will open up a career path for doctors and nurses — otherwise people are reluctant to work in the area. Also, training systems will be put in place. Multi-disciplinary care, which we have all been pushing for, in oncology will be a reality,” she added.