What is it?
Palliative care is specialist, multidisciplinary health care that seeks to maximise the quality of life and comfort for people with a progressive and life-limiting illness. It aims to alleviate pain and suffering and to integrate medical with spiritual, emotional and psychological aspects of care for the dying person and their family.
Palliative care can be provided in private or public hospitals, hospices, residential aged-care facilities and a person’s home by a number of different health professionals who often work together in teams. These include:
- Specialist palliative care doctors and nurses
- General practitioners (GPs)
- Allied health professionals such as pharmacists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech pathologists and dietitians
- Social workers
- Grief and bereavement counsellors
- Pastoral care workers
Why is it important?
Palliative care can greatly improve how a person lives with and ultimately dies from, their illness. It can also offer families and those who are caring vital emotional and practical support. The World Health Organization’s definition states that palliative care:
- Provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms
- Affirms life and regards dying as a normal process
- Intends neither to hasten nor postpone death
- Integrates psychological and spiritual aspects of palliative care
- Offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death
- Offers a support system to help the family cope during the patient’s illness and in bereavement
- Uses a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families, including bereavement counselling if indicated
- Will enhance the quality of life and may also positively influence the course of illness
- Is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and includes those investigations needed to better understand and manage distressing clinical complications
When do I access it?
Palliative care may begin at any time following a diagnosis – it’s never too soon to make contact with your local service. Early, and even late, the involvement of the palliative care team is strongly recommended. In fact, research tells us that palliative care enhances and, in some cases, prolongs life.
If the person you are caring for is in the hospital and you’re planning to bring them home, it is important that a referral is made to the local palliative care service before they are discharged; this can be done by either the hospital doctor or the person’s GP. Community palliative care services can provide support through home visits. If the person you are caring for is well enough to get around on their own, they may also visit specialist palliative care clinics as an outpatient.
How do I access it?
Ask your GP, the hospital doctor or a member of the hospital’s multidisciplinary team (nurse, social worker etc.) for more information on how to access palliative care services. Palliative Care Australia (PCA), the national peak body for palliative care, provides information and resources (including online training) for carers, families and those receiving palliative care throughout Australia. Go to www.palliativecare.org.au or call (02) 6232 0700 – support is also available after hours on 1800 548 225. A directory of services can be found on the website of the PCA member organisation in your state or territory:
NSW – Palliative Care NSW
- (02) 9206 2094 / 0403 699 491
SA – Palliative Care South Australia
- (08) 8271 1643
QLD – Palliative Care Queensland
- (07) 3511 1539
VIC – Palliative Care Victoria
- (03) 9662 9644
WA – Palliative Care WA
- 1300 551 704
TAS – Palliative Care Tasmania
- (03) 6231 2799
ACT – Palliative Care ACT
- (02) 6255 5771
NT – Palliative Care Northern Territory
- (08) 8951 6762