Palliative Care

What is meant by the term palliative care, when and where it is provided and by whom.

Page last updated: 13 January 2014

What is palliative care?

A person receiving palliative care will have an active, progressive and far-advanced disease, with little or no prospect of cure. The aim of palliative care is to achieve the best possible quality of life for the individual patient, their carers and family.
Palliative care:
    • affirms life and treats dying as a normal process;
    • neither hastens nor postpones death;
    • provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms;
    • integrates the physical, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual aspects of care, with coordinated assessment and management of each person’s needs;
    • offers a support system to help people live as actively as possible until death; and
    • offers a support system to help the family cope during the person’s illness and in their own bereavement.

Who receives palliative care?

Palliative care is provided to people of all ages who are dying.

The need for palliative care does not depend on any specific medical diagnosis, but on the person's needs. Some of the common medical conditions of people requiring palliative care include: cancer, HIV/AIDS, motor neurone disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and end-stage dementia.

Families and carers also receive support from palliative care services. Families provide much of the care for people who are dying, and practical and emotional support for them in this role is critical.

Where are palliative care services provided?

Palliative care services can be provided in the home, in community-based settings like nursing homes, palliative care units, and in hospitals. People who are dying need to be able to move freely between these places in response to their medical care and support needs.

The pattern of care will be different for every individual, and may depend on factors like: geography, services in an area, and the needs and desires of the person, family members and friends.

In general, palliative care is best provided within close proximity to the person's local environment and community. Top of page

Who provides palliative care services?

Palliative care involves coordination of the skills and disciplines of many service providers. Those involved in palliative care may include:
  • specialist providers: medical, nursing and allied health staff who have undertaken further study in palliative care or have significant experience in the area;
  • generalist providers: those clinicians (medical, nursing and allied health) working in other areas of the health system who have a professional involvement with people requiring palliative care; and
  • support services: including those who assist with the processes of daily living, enhancing quality of life, and/or providing emotional and spiritual support.

The National Palliative Care Program

The Australian Government provides support for people with a life-limiting illness through the National Palliative Care Program.

Medicines used in palliative care

Affordable access to medicines can be an important part of palliative care. Many medicines used in palliative care are available under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). Information about palliative care medicines on the PBS can be found on the PBS website.

The consumer section of the on-line PBS Schedule identifies palliative care medicines and consumer information for individual medicines.

More information on medicines

NPS better choices, better health has a series of leaflets to aid in the quality use of medicines. These are available through the NPS website or by phone on (02) 8217 8700.

You can also access the following on the NPS website:
    • Medimate provides information about medicines.
    • Consumer Medicines Information leaflets provide details of specific medicines. Leaflets are available for most medicines.
    • Medicines Tips provides information on common problems with medicines.
NPS Medicines Line is also available to give you access to specific information about medicines, doses, interactions and side effects. You can call the Medicines Line from Mon-Fri 9am-5pm EST on 1300 633 424.

Other Palliative Care Resources

Palliative Care Knowledge Network - Caresearch website

This is an online resource which provides information about palliative care.

Palliative Care Australia

This is the national peak body for palliative care in Australia. Each State and Territory has a local branch and their website includes a service directory. They are available on the Palliative Care Australia website.

Palliative Care Online Training

This free online training program will assist health workers (including general practitioners, nurses and care workers) who provide palliative care to aged persons in the community to implement the principles of the Guidelines for a Palliative Approach for Aged Care in the Community Setting.

Participants have the ability to apply for continued professional development points and recognition of prior learning.

The free online training program is available at: Palliative Care Online website.
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