Palliative care research in Australia has had a rapid period of growth and development as a result of support of a National Palliative Care Program (2000 - 2010) funded by the Department of Health of Ageing. The Program was implemented following the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council endorsement of the first National Palliative Care Strategy in October 2000. Research and project work was undertaken within each of four major focus areas and resulted in a rich, diverse and productive series of investigations.
One of the four focus areas in the program was research and quality improvement for palliative care services. This focus area included a joint initiative with the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) called the Palliative Care Research Program (2001 - 2010). A second focus area looked at increased access to palliative care medicines in the community which included funding for a clinical research collaborative, the Palliative Care Clinical Studies Collaborative (PaCCSC).
PaCCSC is a unique model for research. It is a national collaborative, based at Flinders University. Through the National Palliative Care Program, funding was given specifically to develop rigorous prospective multisite clinical trials so medications of importance to palliative care - if shown to be effective and safe - can be listed in the national Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule for a palliative care indication. In this way the studies will improve access to these medications for palliative care patients and improve patient safety.
Funded PaCCSC studies to date relate to conditions common in palliative care (pain, dyspnoea, delirium, bowel obstruction, and cachexia). They have all been designed to include quality of life outcomes, include new ways of studying health economic impacts of the study conditions and the treatments, and methodically look for adverse effects of treatments.
Other strategies included in the NHMRC Palliative Care Research Program were:
- Research Development Grants
- Priority Driven Research Grants
- Training Awards, comprising PhD Scholarships and Postdoctoral Fellowships.
During this period of research focus, a number of specialist research groups in Australia have emerged, usually as collaborations between academic institutions and clinicians. These have contributed significantly to the development of the palliative care field. Some groups are specifically focused on palliative care, whilst others cross disciplines and are close collaborators with palliative care researchers. These include:
- New South Wales
- CeMPED (Centre for Medical Psychology & Evidence-based Decision-making)
- Cunningham Centre
- ImPaCCT (Improving Palliative Care through Clinical Trials – NSW Palliative Care Clinical Trials Group)
- PoCoG (Psycho-Oncology Co-Operative Research Group – one of 13 National Cancer Clinical Trials Groups funded by Cancer Australia)
- CPCRE (Centre for Palliative Care Research and Education)
- PHC-RED (Primary Health Care Research Evaluation and Development Group)
- South Australia
- Western Australia
The capacity-building associated with the whole set of nationally funded palliative care programs has not yet been fully evaluated. However, over the last decade Australian palliative care clinicians have had greatly increased opportunities to become involved in rigorous clinical trials, well-designed qualitative studies and health services research. Practical learnings from this research program are being widely shared within the palliative care community, nationally and internationally.
Some examples of the new research in these areas include:
- Aspects of designing randomised controlled trials for palliative care settings [1-7,11]
- Issues related to ethics approval and adverse effect reporting in palliative care studies [8-9]
- World first guidelines for palliative care in residential aged care and companion guidelines for palliative care for older people living in the community
- Specific approaches to health economic assessment that capture what is important in palliative care 
- New methodologies to improve the quality and feasibility of palliative care research, for instance “n of 1 trials”  or population estimates 
- New strategies to improve searching and retrieval of palliative care evidence [13-14]
- Issues in quality improvement activities [15-16] and
- Understanding the characteristics of carer populations and palliative care populations [17-19].