Some hospitals have refused to transfer patients who have requested voluntary assisted dying causing additional distress to grieving families, according to the chair of the board that oversees the newly legalised procedure. VAD chair Scott Blackwell wrote in the board’s annual report, tabled in November, that it was “disappointing” that “individuals or organisations” had obstructed people who had tried to access assisted dying. Dr Blackwell told The West Australian that the people and organisations he was referring to were health providers — individual doctors and hospitals. The board chair and leading palliative care specialist said the “small number” of reports had come from family members of people who had died by euthanasia, which became legally available in July 2021. “Patients who have requested voluntary assisted dying can get shipped out of hospitals that are conscientious objectors and that process usually runs quite smoothly,” Dr Blackwell said. “But for these families, it was fairly clear that that was not their experience. “The patients were obstructed in their free movement from hospitals to other places where they can access VAD.” Dr Blackwell said families of those seeking VAD had to protest and that this had worsened the grief when the person eventually did legally end their life. “One of the things we look at in end of life care is grief. And for people who have gone through these episodes, their grief has been worsened,” he said. Patients who have requested VAD have also faced “disapproving words” from doctors and difficulty “accessing transport”, Dr Blackwell told The West. The board wants to see amendments to the landmark law that legalised VAD in WA. Dr Blackwell said VAD law in Queensland placed greater responsibility on medical practitioners who are conscientious objectors, usually on religious grounds, to ensure patients could access the procedure elsewhere. “We would like to see greater expectations at a couple of levels,” he said. “If you go to the website of providers who object to VAD, it is unlikely they will have any information that that’s their position and people need to know. “And if a patient does request VAD, they should be allowed to freely visit consultants in a manner that they have requested.” Dr Blackwell said the issues had not come to the board’s attention in the first year that VAD was legalised and that the cases of patients being obstructed in the second year were “disappointing”. He declined to name specific health care providers. However, a spokesman for St John of God Health Care, which runs all of Perth’s Catholic hospitals, said SJOGHC “understands that patients or clients may wish to explore the option of voluntary assisted dying from another provider”. “Patients who request specific information about the VAD process are connected with the WA Voluntary Assisted Dying Statewide Care Navigator Service. We also support the transfer of care for patients who wish to access VAD services available elsewhere,” he said. Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said she shared the board’s “frustration and disappointment” and called on health providers “to do the right thing and appropriately assist people seeking to access voluntary assisted dying”. “The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 provides for an inaugural review of the legislation to be undertaken after the second anniversary of operation. This is currently underway,” she said. “Once received, I will consider the report of the statutory review by the expert panel.” The annual report reveals there were 255 voluntary assisted dying deaths in WA in 2022-2023, representing a increase of 33.5 per cent from the first year that VAD was legal. Since euthanasia became available, 1120 had requested the procedure, including 11 people between the ages of 18 and 39, and 446 in WA have died by VAD. There are 97 medical and nurse practitioners who have completed the necessary training, but the board believes more are needed to meet demand and “avoid practitioner burnout and fatigue”. The board advised changing the Act to allow nurses to take a greater part in the process to fill the gap and raised concern there was “no secure funding” “Health practitioner availability is vital to the successful provision of voluntary assisted dying services to Western Australians, and it is of ongoing concern to the Board that there is still no secure funding for their services,” Dr Blackwell said. “Practitioners deserve to be adequately remunerated for the extensive time they spend assessing and supporting patients through the voluntary assisted dying process and for the mandatory administrative and reporting activities involved.” Dr Blackwell said most doctors were simply absorbing the cost of the procedure that Medicare did not cover and that this “should be addressed as a matter of priority”.