Palliative care

Palliative care is specialised medical care for people living with a serious illness.

The term “palliative care” derives from the word “palliate”, which means to reduce or alleviate suffering.

This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. However, palliative care is not the same as end-of-life care. You can receive palliative care at any stage of your illness. You can also continue treatment for your illness while you are having palliative care. There are many definitions of palliative care. Here are some:

‘Palliative care is the holistic care of anyone with a life limiting illness, young to old, and their families at any and all points in their illness. This means that you don’t have to be scared. You and your loved ones are not alone, you can take back control. You have control.’ Catholic Healthcare Australia Work Plan document, 2021

“Palliative care is 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.”

World Health Organization Definition of Palliative Care

Palliative care that helps people live their life as fully and as comfortably as possible when living with a life-limiting or terminal illness.

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. nausea, 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
  • 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

Palliative care is a person and family-centred model of care, meaning that family and carers can receive practical and emotional support.

Palliative care includes the possibilities of inpatient care in a hospice or hospital, outpatient care at a clinic and community-based care delivered in your own home or residential care facility. In our society, palliative care can be delivered by general practitioners, by specialist clinicians, by specialist nurses or nurse practitioners, and by other clinicians such as psychologists, social workers, music therapists, and a range of other practitioners / contributors. In this sense, the multiple disciplines who contribute to this model of care seek to address every dimension of human life, hence the language “holistic” care.

In the Catholic tradition, death is part of life and any act to deliberately hasten or shorten a person’s life is not supported. Palliative care is a means to promote a culture of life rather than support a culture of death. A palliative care approach does not seek to unnecessarily prolong or hasten death, but accepts death as a normal part of the overall mystery of life.

As a person who has been diagnosed with a life limiting illness you may wish to receive palliative care to optimise your quality of life.

Your needs and the needs of your carer/s will increase as you journey towards your end of life. This phase is recognised as one in which increased services and support are essential to ensure quality, coordinated care is being delivered. This would include the terminal phase when your death is imminent and extends to bereavement care for your loved one.

How do I get palliative care?

For help and information ask your:

  • Doctor – your GP or your specialist
  • Aboriginal Health Worker
  • Hospital Liaison Officer
  • A community Nurse

For information on how to access palliative care services in NSW, visit your local health district webpage or the links below.​​​​​​​​​​​​

Additional resources

Living with the knowledge that death is close at hand can take a huge emotional toll. These resources will help you through the experience of facing death.