What is Palliative Care?
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What kind of care is available?
Quality care at the end of life is specialised care and support that recognises the unique needs of a person who has a terminal condition, and their family and carers.
Most people with a terminal condition will be cared for by their general practitioner and community nurses. These health professionals are supported by specialist palliative care services to ensure all people receive the highest quality care to meet their needs.
The goal is to improve quality of life for patients, their families and carers by providing care that addresses the many needs patients, families and carers have such as physical (including treatment of pain and other symptoms), emotional, social, cultural and spiritual.
The aim is to help the person live as well as possible. Support is also offered to help family and carers manage during the patient’s illness and in bereavement.
As a person receiving care, the patient is an important partner in planning their care and managing their condition. Family and carers also have an important role in this area. When people are well informed, participate in treatment decisions and communicate openly with their doctors and other health professionals, they help make their care as effective as possible.
Care planning is an important process in ensuring the patient’s wishes, in relation to care, are met. Patients should speak to their doctor about anticipating their changing needs through advance care planning. Discussions about appointing a substitute decision maker may also be important.
What is specialist palliative care?
A small number of people experience severe or complex problems as their condition advances. These people may be referred to a specialist palliative care service where a team of specialist professionals will work to meet their needs.
Alternatively, the patient’s general practitioner may seek advice from a specialist palliative care service on the patient’s behalf.
Can I still have active treatment for my illness?
Yes – treatment aimed at curing illness can often be continued. The focus of care is maintaining quality of life and meeting the needs of the person, their family and carers.
Who provides care?
Care can be provided by a number of different health professionals, depending on:
- the needs of the patient
- the resources and needs of the family and carers
Many health professionals may be involved in delivering care and generally they will work as part of an interdisciplinary team. A care team may include:
- general practitioners
- specialist palliative care doctors and nurses
- specialist doctors – oncologists, cardiologists, neurologists, respiratory physicians
- allied health professionals – pharmacists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists
- social workers
- grief and bereavement counsellors
- pastoral care workers
Who should I talk to about palliative care?
You can talk about your needs with your doctor or regular care team. You can also consult the National Palliative Care Service Directory to find a service that provides care in your area.
Where can I receive care?
Care can be provided in:
- the home
- a hospital
- an aged care home
- a hospice
Most people with a terminal condition prefer to receive care at home, but this will depend on many factors, including:
- the nature of the illness
- how much support is available from the person’s family and community
- whether the person has someone who can care for them
If I am in pain, how will it be eased?
Not everyone with a terminal condition will experience pain. If patients do experience pain, in almost all cases it can be relieved.
There are many pain management medicines that can be given in different ways – tablets, liquids, injections, patches. There is also a wide range of medicines and other treatments that can be combined to improve pain relief.
Some complementary therapies, such as massage, acupuncture or aromatherapy can also be helpful in relieving pain.
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These brochures are reproduced here with permission from Palliative Care Victoria.