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End of life in hospitalised prisoners: a group comparison of palliative medicine and hospital use

Abstract

Background Providing optimal palliative and end-of-life care for people in prison with advanced progressive disease is a growing challenge. This study aimed to examine hospital and palliative care utilisation for people in prison who are hospitalised during the final 3 months of life and to compare with a disease-matched non-incarcerated patient cohort.

Methods A retrospective cohort study of people in prison who died between 2009 and 2019 in an Australian public hospital that provides tertiary-level healthcare for 18% of Australia’s prison population. Demographic, clinical and service use data were extracted from medical records of eligible patients experiencing incarceration (prison group) and a disease-matched, non-incarcerated patient comparator group (comparator group).

Results At the time of death, patients in the prison group were aged a median of 20 years younger than the comparator group (median age 58 vs 78 years, p<0.01). The prison group experienced more than double the mean length of acute care hospital stay at the end of life. A higher proportion of patients in the prison group experienced an intensive care unit episode (22% vs 12%). More than two-thirds (71%) of the prison group patients were seen by palliative care prior to death, similar to the comparator group (p=0.44). Those transferred to the palliative care unit had a shorter length of stay and were admitted later, just prior to death (median 5 vs 8 days).

Conclusions People in prison have prolonged acute care public hospital stays and are more likely to experience escalation of care at the end of life. Future opportunity may exist for increased access to formal subacute care settings for people in prison with life-limiting illness to receive optimal palliative and end-of-life care.

  • terminal care
  • chronic conditions

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