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What is Palliative Care

Palliative care improves the quality of life of patients and that of their families who are facing challenges associated with life-threatening illness, whether physical, psychological, social or spiritual.

Patient and miniature horse Moet

What is palliative care?

The World Health Organization (WHO 2013) defines palliative care as, “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.”

Palliative care is not just care provided in the final stages of life, but helps people to live well with a terminal illness. Sometimes palliative care can be of benefit for a person at their initial diagnosis of a life-limiting condition, or be useful on and off through various stages of an illness. Many people have long-term interactions with their palliative care team, seeing them during the course of their illness. There are many elements to palliative care, including pain and symptom management, advice and support to carer/s, and advance care planning. Palliative care ensures patients are kept comfortable and maintain good quality of life.

Palliative care is also a family-centred model of care, meaning that family and carers can receive practical and emotional support. Palliative care involves a range of services delivered by a range of professionals that all have equally important roles to play – including physicians, nursing, support workers, paramedics, pharmacists, physiotherapists and volunteers, all in support of the patient and their family.

End-of-life care is the last few weeks of life in which a patient with a life-limiting illness is rapidly approaching death. The needs of patients and their carers is higher at this time. This phase of palliative care is recognised as one in which increased services and support are essential to ensure quality, coordinated care from the health care team is being delivered. This takes into account the terminal phase or when the patient is recognised as imminently dying, death and extends to bereavement care.

Palliative care is care that helps people live their life as fully and as comfortably as possible when living with a life-limiting or terminal illness. Early delivery of palliative care reduces unnecessary hospital admissions and the use of health services. Palliative care identifies and treats symptoms which may be physical, emotional, spiritual or social. Because palliative care is based on individual needs, the services offered will differ but may include:

  • Relief of pain and other symptoms e.g. vomiting, shortness of breath
  • Resources such as equipment needed to aid care at home
  • Assistance for families to come together to talk about sensitive issues
  • Planning for future medical treatment decisions and goals of care
  • Links to other services such as home help and financial support
  • Support for people to meet cultural obligations
  • Support for emotional, social and spiritual concerns
  • Counselling and grief support
  • Referrals to respite care services

Who is palliative care for?

Palliative care is for people of any age who have been told that they have a serious illness that cannot be cured. Palliative care assists people with illnesses such as cancer, motor neurone disease and end-stage kidney or lung disease to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. For some people, palliative care may be beneficial from the time of diagnosis with a serious life-limiting illness. Palliative care can be given alongside treatments given by other doctors.

It is available for everyone: young and old, with any terminal diagnosis, people of any ethnic or cultural background, wherever they live – in the city or in the country.

Palliative care is required for a wide range of diseases. The majority of adults in need of palliative care have chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases (38.5%), cancer (34%), chronic respiratory diseases (10.3%), AIDS (5.7%) and diabetes (4.6%). Many other conditions may require palliative care, including kidney failure, chronic liver disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, neurological disease, dementia, congenital anomalies and drug-resistant tuberculosis (WHO 2022).

“Just wanted to say how kind, compassionate and caring the hospice staff and volunteers were in Mum’s last days. You made her so comfortable and our family coped far better because of you all – thank you from the bottom of our hearts!”

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